Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reasons to deconvert to atheism

I created this blog solely in response to what I considered a valid observation posted on the atheist pages of Ebon Musings, the parent site of the Daylight Atheism blog: that many theists tend to structure their belief system in a manner in which in cannot be falsified. The following statement appears in The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists, from Ebon Musings:

Thus, in the spirit of proving that atheists' minds are not closed, I've assembled below a list of everything I can think of that I would accept as proof that a given religion is true. Also included are things that I would accept as circumstantial evidence of a particular religion's truth and things that would not be acceptable to me as proof of anything. While I do not claim to speak for all atheists, I would confidently say that any religion that could produce one of the things from the first list would probably gain a great number of
converts.

To be fair, I invite all theists to respond by preparing a list of things that they would accept as proof that atheism is true. If any theist prepares such a list, posts it on the Internet and tells me about it, I'll link to it from this page.

I judged the published atheist criteria on that website to be reasonable. Naturally, I felt compelled to offer a set of theistic criteria in response. To be honest, the list that resulted was more difficult to prepare than I anticipated and, I wager, may require clarification in the future--if only to incoporate additional criteria.

I predict that one intersting aspect of this exercise will be that atheists who read these criteria will think it obvious that I should deconvert to atheism. Likewise, theists will greet the criteria like an old friend and wonder how anyone could not believe. Such is the debate at hand.

One initial thought regarding this strange phenomenon is that we are not dealing with an exact science when we enter into the realm of metaphysics. Rather than diminishing the metaphysical as many have suggested, this may be a good indicator of how profound metaphysics actually are.

As a theist, another initial thought immediately springs to mind. Namely, that there may be a willing or unwilling supression of the sensus divinitatis occuring. As this phrase seems to infuriate or otherwise insult atheists, I have consciously avoided it in the criteria. Also, I have attempted to provide criteria that can be met in a substantive manner, instead of offering experiential criteria that could never be addressed.

With that said, I hope that atheists commenting in response will recognize my attempt at fairness--I will modify the criteria at any point at which they are demonstrated to be unfair. I also hope that they will trust that their comments are welcome, wanted, and respected. We may disagree strongly about things, but that is no reason to be hateful or condescending. When dealing with beliefs, emotions sometimes run hot. People are fervent in their beliefs; but then, that is a healthy thing when channeled properly.

PS- I apologize for the length. If the format is irritating, sorry for that too. 1st blog post ever.

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“In several years of debating atheism and theism, I have made an observation. Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, "Nothing - I have faith in my god." Although such people may well exist, I personally have yet to meet a theist who would acknowledge even the possibility that his belief was in error. Many theists, by their own admission, structure their beliefs so that no evidence could possibly disprove them. In short, they are closed-minded, and have been taught to be closed-minded.” Ebonmuse—The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists

The supernatural, atheism, theism, naturalism, God. I cannot approach these concepts with the absolute certainty that my particular belief is true. Moreover, I cannot honestly force myself to write the words “I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that theism is true.” I am able, however, to write the words “my belief may be in error.” For what it’s worth, hopefully this admission provides one small exception to Ebonmuse’s general lament as noted above.

Yet I am a theist. How? Why? It’s a fair and reasonable question. Are my beliefs structured so that no evidence could possibly overturn them? I hope not, but I have to admit up front that I have never prepared a formal list that documents the conditions under which I would abandon theism. To be honest, the exercise was a bit more challenging than I expected.

“It is my hope that the advice presented in this article will encourage theists to view atheism as a serious, substantive viewpoint whose proponents are worthy of respect, even if they do not agree with it. The unreasoning prejudice that too often arises when people are confronted by viewpoints different from their own - theist against atheist, theist against theist - has been a substantial obstacle to peace and understanding among humanity throughout its history. We must learn to overcome this tendency and instead let reason be our guide. Only when all participants treat each other with the seriousness and respect they deserve can the debate truly begin.” Ebonmuse—How not to Convert an Atheist

C.S. Lewis wrote these words: There is something holier about the atheism of a Shelley than about the theism of a Paley. I sympathize with this thought. While the context it was delivered in would be hotly debated, the intent of the thought remains and is offered as a sort of olive branch: the notion that some theists view atheists, and their viewpoints, with respect and regard their materialism as substantive [forgive me, I couldn’t resist]. I, for one, am haunted by Meursault’s opening himself to the gentle indifference of the world. This image has several peers in literature, but not many betters, if any.

That our observation results in a variety of conclusions in this area emerged as the most peculiar aspect of this exercise. It also warns me that most of what I offerwhich seems to be an inference to the best explanation given our (or my) observation—will most likely be ridiculed by most atheists in their heart of hearts, or at best seen as rationale insufficient as foundation for a metaphysical conclusion. Yet I expect most theists will consider it reasonable and think it does not go far enough. What an odd business metaphysics is—and the agnostics said, “Amen.”

The criteria below present a weak theistic view, in the sense that little is given as criteria to abandon a God who is omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent. Some may consider this a weakness, or that I purposely scaled back the potential for falsification. All would say in response is that the invitation requested criteria for abandoning theism in a general sense, and that it what I have given.

A theist’s list is more difficult to compose than an atheist’s. The atheistic list that prompted this response centers around events potentially performed by God: prophecy, direct revelation, delivering inerrant texts, disclosing scientific knowledge not known to humans, among others. For this list, I do not have the luxury of requesting “the nothing” to demonstrate its nothingness. I would predict that this list will be open to the charge that it is structured in a manner that protects my belief. I am sensitive to this charge and have tried my best to avoid it. If any atheists wish to suggest an additional criterion, be my guest. If reasonable, I will certainly add it to the list.

Lastly, by way of introduction, the majority of commenters on Daylight Atheism appear analytical in their understanding and practice of philosophy. For you deconstructionists or continental philosophers, this list is based on assumptions you may not share. Feel free to comment anyway and I will join you in a collective raspberry. Were I not a theist—or if this exercise results in a deconversion—I would be among your ranks.

A variant of the Cosmological argument sets the foundation for much of the criteria established below. Something exists. Four general categories of thought have coalesced over time to account for this existence: everything is an illusion, something came from nothing, matter is eternal (includes energy, the space-time continuum, other universes, etc.), something supernatural is eternal. If anyone can conceive of another, I would love to hear it. (Don’t respond with infinite turtle-stacking questions. The above is as far as I intend to employ the CA)

If your atheism is based on everything being an illusion, so be it. There are some things to consider here, but I don’t expect many folks will defend this position so I will not spend any time on it.

If you wish to maintain that something can come from nothing, see below first. It is common to hear this claim these days, but what is usually in view is an actual “something” in place of the “nothing.” For something to come from nothing is a logical impossibility, in direct violation of the law of non-contradiction, thus irrationality. (yes, I have heard of quantum physics)

That leaves two possibilities: matter or something supernatural being eternal. What is common with both of them is that something must be eternal. Of course one could argue a fifth position in which matter and the supernatural were both eternal. Feel free to do this if you wish since you will be affirming the supernatural in the process. Most of my criteria rely on this assumption, so I figure it is fair game to criticize this assumption as well as providing positive data for atheism in line with the criteria.

Lastly, if I understand the basic assumptions behind atheism correctly,—and feel free to bolster the atheistic view here as admittedly I cannot do it justice like an atheist would—it seems that atheism requires everything that is to be explainable by naturalistic causes. In keeping with this naturalism, humans must be no more than the composition and interaction of their material components, though we could grant a holistic conception added to the materialism of humanity: much like the interaction between the software and hardware of a computer.

Most of the criteria, then, ask this question: does theism or atheism, supernatural or natural, seem more likely given our observation? The following categories are taken directly from Ebon Musings, with minor alterations.

The first category deals with things that would absolutely convince me of the truth of atheism. If any of these were demonstrated conclusively, I would deconvert on the spot.

1. Hope, joy, love, jealousy, personality, intelligence, and the like—we observe them everyday, both firsthand and in others. Both atheism and theism account for them in their systems, however, theism has a prima facie advantage given these observations. It seems an easier task to go from an intelligent agency to a world full of these, while these observations arising from irrational matter is a bit harder case to make—molecules, atoms, energy, the space-time continuum, chemical reactions, do not exhibit these qualities yet must ultimately be their source under the atheist system. Personality appears to permeate the universe, which lends itself to theism over atheism. Were it demonstrated conclusively that these observations are more likely to obtain under atheism (not proved, mind you), I would deconvert.

2. Correct me if I misstate the atheist position, but naturalism appears to require that humans are not more than sophisticated machines. I have heard humanity described as “DNA robots,” the latest development in the arms race concerned with the survival of DNA. This characterization seems reasonable. If this is accurate, then our selves are illusions. Our sense of purpose and meaning is illusory. In fact, the qualities mentioned in the first criterion are grand illusions as well and only serve as sophisticated software for the DNA robot. This seems reasonable if naturalism is followed to its conclusions, and, given naturalism, I would concur.

Atheists, however, tend to forget their philosophy when they go about the business of real life. Atheists have purpose in their lives. They find meaning. They stare at the heavens just like theists. If purpose and meaning are illusions, they are darn good ones. We are all fools. Atheists themselves are only slightly less deluded than theists in this area. I can understand a man coming to the final conclusion that all is meaningless, but it is not the default position.

Again, we do not seem to get meaning from matter. Meaning is more consistent with an intelligence behind the universe. If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert. NOTE: this is not the same as saying that atheists do not have meaning in their lives. I freely admit that they do. It might be saying that they borrow it from theism. It is also consistent to say that when I use meaning and purpose in this section, it claims that meaning and purpose are not merely human constructs, they have a connection with the universe, they reflect the way the universe really is.

3. Good and Evil, the Problem of Evil, an objective morality. If it could be demonstrated that these are illusory concepts as well, or that they are more likely to proceed from irrational matter, I would deconvert.

I have read Ebonmuses’ carrot and stick essay five times. It is an exceptional piece of work. The morality contained therein is a high standard and if everyone agreed to follow it, the world would be a wonderful place. Yet he freely admits that it is not objective in the theistic sense:


I do not mean to imply by these statements that this moral code exists independently of human beings - by no means should my statements be read as suggesting that I believe that there is a set of rules carved on stone tablets hidden in a remote mountain cave, or drawn in letters of fire floating through the ether in a Platonic higher world. On the contrary, I believe that morality is a concept created by humans for humans; morality exists because we exist.

Again, I agree given naturalism. However, if morality is a concept created by humans for humans, then each separate conception of morality created by a group of humans is equal—none has the moral authority over another, so to speak. Ebonmuse attempts to evade this uncomfortable conclusion by appealing to a principle he calls universal utilitarianism. He asks: “What is the ultimate aim of morality? What state does it seek to bring about? The answer to this should, I hope, be obvious: the goal of morality is to ensure happiness.”


To achieve this aim, universal utilitarianism is offered: Always minimize both actual and potential suffering; always maximize both actual and potential happiness.


Again, I applaud this principle. It may even be correct to state “that universal utilitarianism is the moral system that offers the greatest chance for maximal happiness.” It may also be “the most rational course for all human beings.”


The problem is not that Universal utilitarianism is a bad moral code. It is an excellent moral code. The problem is that UU assumes as its base a portion of the objective moral standard it denies exists. Ebonmuse anticipates this objection: “Universal utilitarianism is not in any way derived from theistic morality, because it is based on the fundamentally human trait of empathy.”


In response, I would say that morality is not theistic in the sense I believe is implied above. Morality belongs to every person who ever lived, not just theists, but atheists, agnostics, serial killers, and any other group you can name. Nevertheless, when Ebonmuse claims that UU is based on the fundamentally human trait of empathy, he is relying on the objective standard to judge empathy as “good.” The same thing can be said when UU is claimed to offer the greatest chance for maximal happiness. An objective standard is appealed to declare happiness as good. In this manner the objective standard of morality is smuggled in, despite the claim that UU can exist without it.This in no way diminishes the worth of UU, rather UU is established on firm ground.


And this is in fact our common experience. People, theists and atheists alike, really feel wronged when they are wronged. They use the words “should” and “ought” as if there were weight behind them. Is this common experience an illusion like the items in the first two sections? If it were demonstrated so, I would deconvert.


Moreover, the Problem of Evil is trotted out consistently as a defeater for theism. Any theist who has not felt the weight of the POE has not comprehended it. Nonetheless, the POE seems to be a problem for atheists as well. Given naturalism, evil exists only as a human construct, not as a metaphysical reality. It follows that nothing is truly “evil” in the theistic understanding of the world. However, humans, atheists and theists alike, experience it everyday, recognize it on the news, and generally deplore it. If naturalism is true, this feeling is an illusion.


But the POE is plural for atheism where it is singular for theism. Atheism has no objective answer for the existence of good in the universe. To say that it is merely a human idea seems to contradict our most base feelings of what the universe is like. Atheists really believe some things are good. They protest. They feed the starving. They care for the downtrodden. Those who claim that good is only a human construct act as though it permeated the structure of the universe.


If it were demonstrated that good does not exist objectively or that good and evil are more likely to come from inanimate, irrational matter, I would deconvert to atheism. Please allow me to reiterate that in no way does this imply that atheists are immoral or amoral.


4. Thought—as far as we know, matter, energy, etc., do not think. If it could be demonstrated that rational thought is more likely to arise from irrational matter and causes than from an intelligent agent, I would deconvert.


It is understood and agreed that our brains are made of matter and that they think, but that is the question here, not the answer. (yeah, yeah, except for my brain)
As a corollary, the logic we are using in this debate seems more likely given theism than given naturalism. If it could be demonstrated otherwise…


5. If it could be demonstrated that Texas is not God’s country and that Aggies were smarter than Longhorns, I would deconvert.


6. Justice—along the same lines, if it were demonstrated that justice is illusory, I would deconvert. Our common humanity shares a notion of justice. It is obvious that perfect justice will not be achieved in this life. This is becoming repetitive, however, I offer this section as a glimpse of the necessity of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, all of which are required to accomplish the justice humanity seems to require.


7. If it could be demonstrated conclusively that the sensus divinitatis and theistic experience is the result of a “god gene” or some other natural cause, I would deconvert. Naturally, it would be difficult, or impossible, for someone to falsify my experience or perception of things, but taken in hand with the other criteria, it should be possible to make a case. I suspect many atheists will already consider the “god gene” conclusive. Based on their presuppositions, I would as well.


The second category deals with things that would not be conclusive, but that would count as circumstantial evidence. Show me one of these and I might not deconvert right away, but atheism will look a lot better to me.


1. If through science and education alone, humanity created a world where everyone was clothed, fed, and sheltered, and war became a thing of the past. This may be the lone criterion of this list that can be actualized, and it is currently possible. A related difficulty for theism would be if the world became so thoroughly evil that there was no discernable good in it.


2. Falsifying the resurrection of Christ—this would cause me to abandon the particular brand of theism I believe. If this were falsified, I might hold onto a general theism and I might not, depending on the strength of the responses above. But certainly, the likelihood of converting to atheism would increase exponentially.


3. If the compatibilist view of the will is false.


The final category deals with things that would not convince me; none of the following would persuade me to rethink my position.


1. That something could come from nothing. Nothing really means nothing—no singularities, no time/space continuums, nothing. As Martin Luther said, “Nothing does not mean a little something." If there ever were nothing, there would still be nothing. If there ever were nothing, there would not be mathematical equations attempting to persuade us that something could come from nothing.


2. Evolution—evolution provides a natural framework for atheism; however, its truth or falsity is neutral to this discussion. Biologists understand this, I think, when they make the claim that falsifying evolution does not make creationism true. It is fair game to utilize evolution to demonstrate a point in response to the above, but its existence by itself does not demonstrate atheism.


3. That religions or adherents of religions have performed evil acts. The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with the actions of someone who claims to believe it or acts in its name. I do not make the logical jump that because I am able to identify an evil act performed by an atheist, atheism must not be true.


4. That theism is ultimately untestable or unproveable—I consider the frequency of this misguided claim interesting. Everyone reading this will test theism conclusively within 100 years, most significantly sooner. Thousands tested it yesterday. Thousands more will test it today. You will most likely test it personally on an accelerated timescale when compared with the 150 years or so we have been testing the theory of evolution.


5. Who made God? comments, age of the earth, parallel and mystery religions, the claim that “before the big bang” is a meaningless proposition.


6. The Euthyphro dilemma—in my opinion there are adequate defenses to the ED (ha ha!) and even if there weren’t, where there is an intelligent agent, there is likely an intelligent solution.


7. Arguments regarding the size of the universe. Sometimes it is argued the vastness of the universe renders theism silly, other times it is the smallness of the universe that renders theism silly. Which is it, or is the game rigged?


8. Life on other planets, UFO’s.




116 comments:

Lynet said...

Since this relates to parts of your post not quoted by Ebonmuse, I'll comment here, instead.

A theist’s list is more difficult to compose than an atheist’s. The atheistic list that prompted this response centers around events potentially performed by God: prophecy, direct revelation, delivering inerrant texts, disclosing scientific knowledge not known to humans, among others. For this list, I do not have the luxury of requesting “the nothing” to demonstrate its nothingness.

Interesting statement. As an atheist, I contend that disbelief is rational for so long as there is no significant positive evidence for God. You can't prove a negative (that's the central issue here), so we require evidence before we believe positives. As such, I guess your list has to be a list of positive types of evidence that you could learn were false -- at which point it would be rational to deconvert. Right? That certainly seems to be the direction you've taken.

Something exists. Four general categories of thought have coalesced over time to account for this existence: everything is an illusion, something came from nothing, matter is eternal (includes energy, the space-time continuum, other universes, etc.), something supernatural is eternal. If anyone can conceive of another, I would love to hear it.

Well, then, I'd better say it! There's a sense in which time came into existence (along with space) in the Big Bang. So it's probable that the question "What happened before the Big Bang?" just isn't well defined in any sense -- there wasn't any time for it to happen in [Oh, sorry. Just saw the end of your essay. I'm curious. Why are you so sure that 'Before the Big Bang' is a meaningful proposition? I'll include the rest of my viewpoint here anyway. It's really not a case of me deliberately swallowing something uncomfortable to fit with atheism, as I've tried to demonstrate below].

That's unsatisfying, but it may well be unsatisfying for the simple reason that our brains have developed to deal with, you know, low-energy scenarios where space isn't too curvy. In other words, the problem is with our brains, not with the universe! Similarly, I think our intuition that 'every effect has a cause' is probably suspect. We don't realise it, but causation is a weird notion. It's actually quite tricky to define; I wrote a philosophy of science essay on the subject a few years back. I'd say causation is part of the way we view the universe, not part of the universe itself. We think in terms of causes not so much because there are causes as because it's useful to think as if there were.

I'm not just saying that to make the world fit in with my atheist viewpoint, by the way. If I hadn't come to that conclusion, I'd just give you an answer like "We don't know whether the universe has always existed or came into being out of nothing or whatever, but if the universe was caused by something else then it probably makes more sense to consider an abstract Aristotelian First Cause which may or may not be conscious and probably doesn't care about us, rather than this rather absurdly specific 'God'."

Oh, and thank you for including number 5. I laughed.

Everyone reading this will test theism conclusively within 100 years, most significantly sooner.

Since that test cannot serve to increase our knowledge in this universe, though, I don't think you can call it scientifically relevant. (You're also begging the question. You don't know that we can test anything when we're dead.)

ardil said...

Fantastic!
I have been reading stuff all through the day and your writing has been the best that I have read all day (and this includes "The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists" by Ebon Muse), by far!
Some comments:
1) Your fifth mechanism for de-conversion proves that you are everything that I wish to deal with :-)
2) You say "If your atheism is based on everything being an illusion, so be it." What if I were to say that "My theism is based on everything being an illusion."? I believe that some non-trivial exposure to "Non-Dualism" ("Advaita") may be useful to you in your theistic journey. Do please explore it!

Quixote said...

Ardil,

Thank for the positive feedback! Much appreciated. In answer to your statement that your theism is based on everythig being an illusion, I would guess that you are an eastern theist.

If you will notice, I left open that there were several things to say regarding the illusion category...I just figured I was not dealing with an eastern-minded audience with this post.

Nonetheless, I cut my teeth on Siddhartha and have a well-worn copy of the Buddhist scriptures on my bookshelf. I do not have a Hindu text, which I need to remedy. As far as I am concerned, your brand of theism is very noble and I like many aspects of it. I will follow your advice with the Advaita.

Lastly, you will notice that I also mentioned continental philosophy in my post, which features many elements similar to Non-dualism. A denial of the subject/object distinction, being projecting from behind, etc.

Thanks again for dropping by!

Quixote said...

"Why are you so sure that 'Before the Big Bang' is a meaningful proposition?"

Because I begin my reasoning with the presupposition that more exists than this universe.

"Similarly, I think our intuition that 'every effect has a cause' is probably suspect. We don't realise it, but causation is a weird notion. It's actually quite tricky to define; I wrote a philosophy of science essay on the subject a few years back. I'd say causation is part of the way we view the universe, not part of the universe itself. We think in terms of causes not so much because there are causes as because it's useful to think as if there were."

I love continental philosophy, so I can follow right along with this contention. I would like an example of an uncaused event, however.

""We don't know whether the universe has always existed or came into being out of nothing or whatever"

We know it didn't arise from nothingness based on non-contradicition. Either it or something is eternal.

"rather than this rather absurdly specific 'God'."

Now there's a positive claim. Care to defend it?

"Since that test cannot serve to increase our knowledge in this universe, though, I don't think you can call it scientifically relevant. (You're also begging the question. You don't know that we can test anything when we're dead.)"


I would agree that it is not scientifically relevant, but that statement doesn't carry the same weight for me as it seems to for you. We won't need to test it when we are dead. We will know (or not).

exarch said...

I've read your criteria, and I can only conclude that all the things that would conclusively convince you of the absence of a deity are pretty much all based on emotion.

Now there's nothing wrong with that. After all, belief in a deity is pretty much an emotional thing, whereas atheism is usually the result of rational thought, of attempting to view the world objectively, find out the truth no matter how you feel about the answer. I don't mean this to sound dismissive, it's just something I've observed.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, you start off by explicitly stating that you don't really know where emotions come from, and so you apparently conclude they must be "handed down by god" or some such. You also seem to assume that atheists have no proper way of dealing with the subject of emotions other than writing them off as "illusions created by the brain". I happen to think they ARE just things created by the brain in response to hormones and chemicals released by the body itself. I wonder why that would be so far fetched or hard to believe though? After all, we've come to the point where we can actually recreate emotions simply by chemically stimulating the right receptors. Many people suffering various degrees of mental illness and depression are surviving quite well because we've found ways to bring their emotions back to the mean by adding the right chemicals.
Electrically stimulating certain portions of the brain even succeeds in (re)creating the illusion of religious experience or the "feeling of god" (perhaps the "sensus divinitatis" you were talking about?).

I've heard religious apologists reason that away as simply a switch for god to flick whenever he needs his presence to be felt, but I consider that a pretty unsophisticated way of blindly ignoring the evidence.

The same goes for the "feeling of purpose".
Just because as atheists we don't believe in some special fate the universe has in store for us, doesn't mean we can't allow the subconscious tools our brain has devised to make daily life easier to give us the illusion of "destiny" and "purpose" and "good". It helps us get out of bed in the morning, and fall asleep at night, but that doesn't mean we don't realise it's only a subconscious way of dealing with events beyond our control, or a shorthand to make difficult descisions without wasting too much time. You may find this book review interesting (it's how I ended up finding my way onto this blog entry in the first place).
Justice and "just deserts" for "evil people" are similar mental mechanisms that help us put our mind at ease, even though we have no way of knowing whether those who are "evil", who have hurt other people are really getting their come-uppance some day. Just because we've evolved into a species that's really good at fooling ourselves this way doesn't imply we're actually taking our sense of purpose, justice, morality, emotions, good v. evil, etc... from a higher intelligence.

Further more, if we did, we'd still be faced with the "turtles all the way down" problem (even if you don't like that argument). If we didn't come up with it ourselves, then who did? If god came up with it, then why couldn't we have come up with it ourselves? If he didn't, then where did he get it from?

Removing god from the equation (and I personally feel we can) just immensely simplifies matters, rather than shortcutting to goddidit. There ARE naturalistic hypotheses out there explaining the purpose of many emotions, Good & evil and even religion itself, from an evolutionary point of view. You can choose to see those as lame rationalisations desperately avoiding or trying to acknowledge god, but I would once again wonder why someone would insist on including god in the explanation in the first place.

Perhaps theists are afraid of losing the luster and the "romance" from the human experience that emotions provide, but I'd have to quote, ... was it Dawkins?, ... when he said that understanding how a flower came to be the way it is doesn't detract anything from appreciating its beauty, in fact, it just adds another layer of awe to the experience of seeing/observing it.

The brain, and the brain's "illusion of consciousness" is a philosophical subject where a lot and a lot more coherent stuff has already been written down by many people much smarter than me, so I'll avoid that one.

I have no good refutation for your 5th point however. Sorry, I guess Texas really IS god's country.

For what it's worth, I think the explanations I gave you above are some of the reasons I myself became an atheist. I reached a point where I wondered why every other question about religion had to have god in the answer, and so many things still made a lot, if not more sense when I scratched god out of them.
For me personally, making the step from a very weak theist, to a deist, and ultimately to atheist, was merely a matter of shedding the need for a deity. Since I became an atheist, there have been a lot more questions about the universe which I've had to answer with "I don't know", but that's partially because before, I hadn't really given it much thought, and I didn't encounter a lot of questions that I couldn't answer conclusively. I feel much happier now saying "I don't know" than I did saying "goddidit".

Johannes Brodwall said...

Reading your list, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was written in a very different spirit from Ebon Musing's. Most atheist (unless they are anti-theists) would be positively thrilled if there were verifiable miracles or prophesies. What a strange and wonderful area this would open for exploration!

Your list, on the other hand, seems to have been created by someone who very much does not want to be proven wrong. As exarch said, it seems to be based on emotion. What proof would suffice?

In keeping with the spirit of the challenge, what would you accept as proof that something was "illusory?"

For example: Would a verified, tested hypothesis for an evolutionary origin of all the emotions listed in criteria 1 do? There is such a hypothesis available, or at least the infant variant of it. Would you listen if it was explained to you? Would you deconvert?

What about exarch's challenge to the sensus divinatis? If someone was able to repeatably and verifiably induce this feeling in a subset of people, would that convince you?

I applaud you for stepping up to the plate, but are you really willing to swing the bat?

PS: Amen to exarch's comments on science and flowers! The theory shows us that bees have color vision. How cool is that?!

Quixote said...

Exarch & Johannes,

Excellent posts, both. I have great respect for the atheist worldview and appreciate you both for being honest. I also appreciate your willingness to follow your interpretation of the evidence to its logical conclusions. Here are a few coments based on your responses:

"Anyway, as far as I can tell, you start off by explicitly stating that you don't really know where emotions come from, and so you apparently conclude they must be "handed down by god" or some such." Not exactly. What I am saying is that they are more likely, or reflect better, our observation given an eternal supernatural realm than with the reduction that comes with an eternal natural realm.

"I wonder why that would be so far fetched or hard to believe though?" It's not at all hard to believe and I applaud you for being courageous enough to say it. Were I an atheist, I would take your postition exactly.

"Further more, if we did, we'd still be faced with the "turtles all the way down" problem (even if you don't like that argument)." The turtles argument is a standard objection to the cosmological argument. The verison of the CA I utilized is not subject to that objection because it claims that something must be eternal and must be criticized with that as a given.

"(and I personally feel we can)" It's theist who reason with emotion remember? Just kidding, I know what you mean...

"You can choose to see those as lame rationalisations desperately avoiding or trying to acknowledge god," Nope, not that kind of guy. These theories are developed by intelligent folk dilligently trying to understand their world. They do not deserve to be written off as lame rationalizations...

"Since I became an atheist, there have been a lot more questions about the universe which I've had to answer with "I don't know" You sound like a person with an open mind. That is a good thing.

"Reading your list, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was written in a very different spirit from Ebon Musing's." EM's list was obviously better and I attempted to be up-front with that admission. The theist's list is much harder to compose than the atheist's. It was written in a good spirit, though. Most theists, as EM noted, would not even try, claiming that they would never doubt their faith. I at least tried to give substantial criteria, though admittedly most are subjective. But then we are not dealing with a hard, measurable science here and if you may restrict your knowledge if you try to force things in this discussion to fit into the scientific method (which is not the same as saying that we can discount things scientifically verifiable).

"Most atheist (unless they are anti-theists) would be positively thrilled if there were verifiable miracles or prophesies. What a strange and wonderful area this would open for exploration!" Thanks for including this. This is good to know. I thought atheists were anti-theists! Thanks...

"What proof would suffice?" Based on discussions with Daylight Atheism, I added a criterion in case it were ever demonstrated that life arose from natural causes. The posters there seemed to think this was a verifiable claim, and one that we might achieve in our lifetimes. If you would like to suggest another valid proof that I should include, I will be happy to do so.

"Would a verified, tested hypothesis for an evolutionary origin of all the emotions listed in criteria 1 do? There is such a hypothesis available, or at least the infant variant of it. Would you listen if it was explained to you? Would you deconvert?

I fear that you will think I am a hopeless theist, but I am aware of the work being done in these areas. As far as the emotions go, there is no doubt that natural causes figure in to their existence. To go from there to the supposition that only natural causes are responsible is a philosophical argument,not a scientific one. My question is not "how did they arise?" but more along the lines with whether they are more compatible with the reduction to materialism or supernaturalism.

"What about exarch's challenge to the sensus divinatis? If someone was able to repeatably and verifiably induce this feeling in a subset of people, would that convince you?" The challenge to the sensus divinatis is a formidable and I have had my eye on it for some time now.

"I applaud you for stepping up to the plate, but are you really willing to swing the bat?" Nice literary style...insinuate at the beginning that I am trying to prevent my deconversion and conclude with a challenge to "swing." Nice touch...changing entire worldviews on the spot is difficult considering all that goes into them, but I would like to think that if someone showed me the light, so to speak, I would swing. In my experience, though, I have noticed that changes of this sort are rarely the on-the-spot conversions, whether coming to faith or deconverting. It usually is the result of months or years of activity.

If you are trying to gauge whether it is a waste of time on your part, well, probably, to be honest, if you are seeking an on the spot deconversion. Regardless, I am glad you two dropped by and feel free to post as much as you like. As far as I am concerned, it is all part of the learning process and I will always pay serious attention to logical, rational, posts like yours.

This I have learned through this exercise: atheism, and atheists (at least the blogging ones-there are plenty of the "when you're dead, you're dead" types around), seem far more rational than most theists I know...

exarch said...

Quixote wrote:
"changing entire worldviews on the spot is difficult considering all that goes into them, but I would like to think that if someone showed me the light, so to speak, I would swing. In my experience, though, I have noticed that changes of this sort are rarely the on-the-spot conversions, whether coming to faith or deconverting. It usually is the result of months or years of activity."

Well, from experience (both personal and as observed in other people) I can say that it all starts by asking questions.

Religion and religious faith seems to have this instinctual aversion to asking questions. Partly, no doubt, because it will eventually result in questions that cannot be answered satisfactorily (is that a word?), and leave gaps in your knowledge/understanding that religion was actually supposed to fill.

This is a major part of why many atheists consider religion a crutch. It helps you magically wave away the uncomfortable doubts and uncertainties that are a direct result of human curiosity. But it doesn't really dispel them, it just ignores them, or provides a few simplistic responses that don't really answer anything but suffice to forget the question (at least for a while).

So asking the right questions will make it painfully obvious that religion doesn't really answer ANY questions. At least not in the way science can. Asking questions is the exact opposite of faith. That's why unwavering belief is seen as such a virtue within the religious framework. And why Ebon's first question is so often answered with "nothing can change my belief in god/religion". Because it's unconditional, to the point where the belief is more important than the truth.

I still applaud you for having had the courage to put these questions to paper. The reason that was so hard is because it's forced you to define the very foundations that your religious belief is based on. It's hard because it probably makes you realise that your faith is not unconditional, and definitely not bulletproof. Although it may be some time before the right bullet comes along.

I wish you the best on your quest for truth, and I hope you find something that you're comfortable wit in the end, be it atheism or some form of theistic belief. I think one thing is certain though, you'll probably never be a hardcore christian (if you ever were). You've progressed too far to return to the lack of critical thought that's required to fit in.

Quixote said...

"Religion and religious faith seems to have this instinctual aversion to asking questions."

If I understand your statements as a generalization, I tend to agree. I get frustrated as well. I could give you several parallels from my experience with fellow Christians.

There are those of us who do not fit the mold, however. Despite our differences in opinion, we probably share a wealth of common ground. For example, I am with you (I assume) in wanting the Church out of science, the government, and the classroom. I suspect that if we looked into it, there are many more.

From reading your posts, I'll wager that the only major thing that separates us is belief vs. non-belief (and the Atlantic, perhaps). I think this is a shame that this has become such a barrier--or has it always been this way? I'll also concede this: what I sense as the atheist disdain for Christians was probably caused by Christians-- Christians who treat atheists as if they are not created in the image of God, and Christians who involve the church in places where it shouldn't be.

"So asking the right questions will make it painfully obvious that religion doesn't really answer ANY questions. At least not in the way science can."

I'd like to hear one of these questions...

exarch said...

I don't know if I can provide those questions. I think those might even be questions that only arise as you're seeking for answers to the things you're dealing with right now.

One thing I'd like to ask though, is why your description of the universe has to include god, and (as I suspect you do, correct me if I'm wrong), why you assume the existence of god (or a deity/creator/primary activator) as being a given (a priori), rather than starting from a position that assumes no god, and only then looks for a valid reason to include him.

You know, what makes god so different from fairies or Santa claus, on the scale of unproven things we believe in anyway?

I think the difference between us may be less than simply belief vs. non-belief. I think the difference might be as insignificant as you starting from the assumption that god exists, while I start from the assumption that in the beginning, there was nothing, not even god. And my world view at no point required the addition of a deity into our universe to account for the things I see and know (although that wasn't always the case).

Nowadays, I view god as a mental workaround, something that humans invented to silence their fears of the unknown. And I see no reason to continue feeding that fantasy. Not without evidence to support it as being anything more than the product of the overactive imagination of a stone-age ancestor who had the willies scared out of them by something like lightning or thunder.

I find religion a fascinating subject, but at the same time, I can't understand how it can make some people ignore huge amounts of knowledge just to be able to keep believing it.

I have no problem with people who try to reconcile their faith with science and reason. My problem is with people who reject science and reason in favor of their faith.

Once you ask questions, and eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, you can never go back to blissful ignorance ...

Johannes Brodwall said...

I fear that you will think I am a hopeless theist, but I am aware of the work being done in these areas. As far as the emotions go, there is no doubt that natural causes figure in to their existence. To go from there to the supposition that only natural causes are responsible is a philosophical argument,not a scientific one. My question is not "how did they arise?" but more along the lines with whether they are more compatible with the reduction to materialism or supernaturalism.

I guess you will think I am a hopeless materialist, but I have a very hard time understanding what you're saying here. :-)

Are you saying that consciousness arising matter is a very unintuitive preposition?

Here is my personal journey on the subject: When I first heard people saying "consciousness is just a result of electrochemical interactions in the brain", my sense of reason was offended. Offended. There is no better word for it. It took me at least five years to find the source of my discomfort. That little word "just". The brain is indeed a marvelous creation (of course: without a creator, IMHO). But it's not the phrase "electrochemical interactions" that is offensive, but the word "just".

As a software engineer, I have found the following analogy: Is the Internet "just" a bunch of electrical signals on a bunch of computers? Well, yes, except for the word "just". No reasonable person would suggest that the Internet is imbued with some supernatural soul, even though most of us can just barely begin to understand how it works.

Back to the question at hand: Provided that you accept that the Internet has no supernatural soul and that no computer will ever have a supernatural soul, how would you react to an artificial intelligence that acted indistinguishable from a human being with emotions and all? Would that be sufficient to fulfill criteria #1 on your list as consciousness being at least as likely to arise in the atheist explanation of the universe as the theist?

By the way: This is just a theoretical musing. Answering "yes" doesn't put you in any great risk of having to eat your words. Despite being proposed over 50 years ago no computer is even close to being able to pass as a human. What I want to know is whether you would accept any empirical test.


"Most atheist (unless they are anti-theists) would be positively thrilled if there were verifiable miracles or prophesies. What a strange and wonderful area this would open for exploration!" Thanks for including this. This is good to know. I thought atheists were anti-theists! Thanks...


The term "anti-theist" is most often used by noted atheist Christopher Hitchins. Hitchins has an amusing rant about "celestial dictatorship": "would I want to live under a regime that is monitoring me 24-7, that would convict me of thought crimes, and from which I could not even escape by dying?! As a matter of fact, when you die, the real fun begins, either as eternal torture, or as eternal worship." (Paraphrased)

I expect that your view of God doesn't quite square up with Hitchins'.

Personally, though, I do wish at a deep level for eternal life, ultimate justice and a true guide to how I should act. But I also realize that my wishes doesn't make it more likely that such is the case.

As a matter of fact, it makes it less likely. If I wish it so strongly, I should be extra wary of self-delusion.

And that is the fundamental issue here: Do we accept that as humans, we are very fallible, and that we should be suspicious of even our own thoughts? Can we, and should we, devise ways to falsify our own beliefs?

Quixote said...

"the existence of god (or a deity/creator/primary activator) as being a given (a priori), rather than starting from a position that assumes no god, and only then looks for a valid reason to include him."

There is probably some truth in this, but as far as the list goes, it was a posteriori, reasoning from our observation backwards inside the framework of the cosmological argument stipulated.

"You know, what makes god so different from fairies or Santa claus, on the scale of unproven things we believe in anyway?"

Obviously, I am willing to believe in fairy-like creatures in the case of angels. Santa, the easter bunny, the great pumpkin...their origins are fairly easy to establish historically.

Which, in turn, generally leads to the idea that man created God for psychological reasons during a non-scientific prehistoric era:

"Nowadays, I view god as a mental workaround, something that humans invented to silence their fears of the unknown. And I see no reason to continue feeding that fantasy. Not without evidence to support it as being anything more than the product of the overactive imagination of a stone-age ancestor who had the willies scared out of them by something like lightning or thunder."

This idea is likely true in many cases despite whether God exists or not. However, I am not sure that ultimately it strengthens the atheist posisiton. By the same reasoning, theists can stipulate, borrowing your phrase, that atheism was invented by humans to silence a fear of the known.

I will freely admit that religion is more than a crutch...it is an entire hospital. But if God exists, atheism can be seen as a crutch as well.

"while I start from the assumption that in the beginning, there was nothing, not even god."

I don't think you can do this and maintain reason. Eternal matter, energy, etc., yes. Nothing, no. If there ever were nothing, there would still be nothing. But what do I know...I can't even make the italics tag work on this blog :)

"I have no problem with people who try to reconcile their faith with science and reason. My problem is with people who reject science and reason in favor of their faith."

We have much common ground & I enjoy your posts thoroughly.

Quixote said...

"Are you saying that consciousness arising matter is a very unintuitive preposition?"

No, sir, nor do I believe you are irrational to maintain it given the evidence. What I am saying is that the prima fascia advantage belongs to theism. Intelligence arising from intelligence, personality rising from personality, better accords with our observation.

"When I first heard people saying "consciousness is just a result of electrochemical interactions in the brain", my sense of reason was offended. Offended." Actually, I think you get it better than you let on at first :)

"how would you react to an artificial intelligence that acted indistinguishable from a human being with emotions and all?"

I almost put this on the list! I still think maybe I should. I am a little bit more optimistic perhaps. I think we very well might just about get there in our lifetimes. Keep up the good work!

The reason I did not put it on the list was because it would always be open to the charge that AI derived from an intelligent source. find one out there that didn't, and we're in business...

"What I want to know is whether you would accept any empirical test." Yes...if we discover chemicals forming themselves into life. (Abiogenesis...correct term?) Or even, self replicating compounds that would turn into the building blocks of life...could find them at the bottom of the ocean, on Mars, a moon in the solar system within our lifetime.

"Can we, and should we, devise ways to falsify our own beliefs?"

Sure. Very reasonable. Why I enjoy your company! Kinda hard when it gets around to God, though...

Johannes Brodwall said...

The reason I did not put it on the list was because it would always be open to the charge that AI derived from an intelligent source.

So, because AI would be created by another intelligence, you don't consider it evidence against the god hypothesis?

But I find your abiogenesis example interesting (yes, that is the correct term). Now you're starting to list testable things:

I understand you to say that if we could synthesis biological life, you would feel the God hypothesis would be substantially weakened.

I also read you to say that extraterrestrial life would be evidence against the hypothesis. These are good, testable statements.

What I am saying is that the prima fascia advantage belongs to theism. Intelligence arising from intelligence, personality rising from personality, better accords with our observation.

I have heard this many times, but I understand it less and less the more I learn about engineering. To me, creating stuff feels more like gardening than commanding it into existence. When have we ever seen personality being created by personality? (Except, perhaps, in my example of AI, which then could be construed as evidence for theism. Good God!)

[Falsifying our belief is] kinda hard when it gets around to God, though...

"Hard" as in "practically difficult" or "hard" as in "emotionally difficult"?

Quixote said...

"So, because AI would be created by another intelligence, you don't consider it evidence against the god hypothesis?" No, I don't. However, this is not the same as saying it would not strengthen the atheist hypothesis. I believe it would, given atheist presuppositions.


"Now you're starting to list testable things:"

To be honest, it was suggested to me by an atheist. I only agreed it should be on the list. It seems reasonable.

"I understand you to say that if we could synthesis biological life, you would feel the God hypothesis would be substantially weakened." Yes, but only weakened along the same lines of the AI example. If we discovered it happening on its own, "substantially weakened" would not nearly be a strong enough phrase.

"I also read you to say that extraterrestrial life would be evidence against the hypothesis."

I am a firm believer in extraterrestrial life.

"To me, creating stuff feels more like gardening than commanding it into existence."

Great thought, this one. Love the image. For humans, this may be absolutely true, since we create through synthesis, using things that already exist. God, presumably, would not be bound by our limitations in this area.

"When have we ever seen personality being created by personality?" I think Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example. If you are looking for examples that actually exist, I can't think of one.

"Good God!" Well done. I love humor!

""Hard" as in "practically difficult" or "hard" as in "emotionally difficult"?"

We could expect to falsify some religions. Practically difficult, however, when it comes to disproving the existence of God.

"prima fascia (mine)" God uses spelling to humble me...

exarch said...

Quixote wrote:
"This idea is likely true in many cases despite whether God exists or not. However, I am not sure that ultimately it strengthens the atheist posisiton. By the same reasoning, theists can stipulate, borrowing your phrase, that atheism was invented by humans to silence a fear of the known.

I will freely admit that religion is more than a crutch...it is an entire hospital. But if God exists, atheism can be seen as a crutch as well.
"

I don't understand this reasoning. In fact, I don't understand how you can see this as a reasonable position to take?

Why would considering something you've never seen, something you have no evidence exists, something you cannot reliably confirm to be real apart from a feeling that is most likely your own body chemistry playing tricks on you, how could you consider that something's existence more reasonable than it's non-existence?

This is the heart of the Santa/Easter bunny comparison.

Sure, you know the cultural and historical roots for those, and you pretty much know the historical and cultural roots of christianity as well (i.e. the bible), so what REALLY makes god different from no-god?

You have no reason to assume that a teapot is in orbit around Jupiter, and the very idea is preposterous, but why is the idea of a deity any less preposterous? Is it simply the fact that believing in him feels comfortable? That his supposed existence makes psychological sense? But making sense still doesn't make it the truth ...

From a purely objective point of view, the no-god hypothesis makes a lot more sense. It starts of assuming nothing, rather than introducing some benevolent, intelligent entity out of the blue.

I can understand your reasoning backwards towards a position that requires god to exist at the very start of the universe. But you started from assumptions that aren't grounded in reality.

I used to be in your shoes. I used to start from the assumption that god existed, and base my logic on that premise. But at some point, I dared to do the unthinkable and start from the premise that there is no such entity, and lo and behold, the universe still made sense, and a whole slew of other things suddenly made a lot more sense as well.

It takes quite some effort to make that last step towards viewing the universe in this truly objective manner.

Quixote said...

"I don't understand this reasoning. In fact, I don't understand how you can see this as a reasonable position to take?" It is the same reasoning by which the atheist arrives at the conclusion that men created God. Man was afraid of the lightning and created God to assuage his fear. If you turn around the thinking, a holy god that exists can be more frightening than lightning, which would provide adequate psychological motivation to develop a system where he did not exist. BTW-I am not accusing you of doing this personally.

"something you have no evidence exists," No evidence that you would accept as valid or could confirm. This is not the same as no evidence.

"but why is the idea of a deity any less preposterous?" Because it is an idea held by most people, across all cultures, throughout all ages. Doesn't make it true, but the difference between the idea of God and an invented absurdity seems obvious. Again, since there must be something eternal logically, we are left with two choices. If I pick one of them, my choice is not preposterous, especially in light of observation as noted above. Orbiting teapots are not eternal by definition, neither are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

"But making sense still doesn't make it the truth ...From a purely objective point of view, the no-god hypothesis makes a lot more sense." Ironic, but I get you. :)

Problem is, the statement itself is not based on objectivity, it is a philosophic contention. BTW--I tend to agree with it when it comes to science, but we are not dealing with science here.

"It starts of assuming nothing, rather than introducing some benevolent, intelligent entity out of the blue." Fair enough, but my argument does not begin by assuming God exists, either.

"But you started from assumptions that aren't grounded in reality." Which ones are those?

"start from the premise that there is no such entity," I do not think this is what you mean. If you start with this premise, it obviously proves itself in a circular manner.

I am assuming you mean that the universe does not require the idea of God to make sense to you. If that is the case, then you are following the evidence where it leads you. I repsect that. I would only caution that since God may exist, you should leave the option open. It seems to me that only in this manner can we think freely...

Johannes Brodwall said...

I have a few questions that I'd love to have answered out of general curiosity, and then what I hope is a more serious challenge.

First, you say: If we discovered [abiogenesis] happening on its own, "substantially weakened" would not nearly be a strong enough phrase. And then you say: I am a firm believer in extraterrestrial life.

In my understanding, these statements seem to be in conflict. Wouldn't extraterrestrial life mean that life has starter many times on it's own?

Or is the claim that "maybe God made that life, too". In which case, I don't understand what evidence would satisfy you in this regard.


"When have we ever seen personality being created by personality?" I think Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example. If you are looking for examples that actually exist, I can't think of one
, and you say in an earlier comment Intelligence arising from intelligence, personality rising from personality, better accords with our observation.

Your comment on "intelligence arising from intelligence" is one that I often hear from reasonable theists. But as you admit yourself, it seems like we don't actually have observations to back up this statement. I didn't realize it before you brought it up, but I think this is a difference between how we think we observe the world, and how things actually look when we're being more thorough. It seems to me that we have very few good examples of intelligence creating intelligence. If God exists, he would probably be fairly unique in this respect. Which is why Dr. Frankenstein is accused of "playing God."

Now to the challenges:

We could expect to falsify some religions. [It is] practically difficult, however, to [disprove] the existence of God.

This is where I take issue with your post, and your follow-up to them. The "evidence" you ask for is extremely vague, because what you want to prove or disprove is extremely vague.

My view is the following: If a hypothesis is hard to disprove because it is vaguely defined, in science it is also unlikely to have any good applications. For example: This has been the major criticism of the physics of string theory.

And because the purpose of our knowledge is application, physicists working with string theory are all trying to find falsifiable tests of their theories.

The application, in theory, of religion is on how we should behave. On morality, ritual and ethics. And if you make God so vague as to be practically impossible to disprove, it is my claim that you also makes it into a totally irrelevant hypothesis.

If there is a God, but we cannot know anything about his nature, is it meaningful to take God into consideration for your thoughts or actions?

My claim is that an unfalsifiable God hypothesis isn't merely scientifically unsatisfying, but also poor theology.

Finally, I would like to offer a new item for consideration for your lists: If it could be statistically shown that non-religious societies are doing significantly at better than religious ones when it comes to factors like, say inequality, crime, incarceration, abortion and suicide rates, would you consider that as circumstantial evidence? I certainly would consider the reverse to be circumstantial evidence against atheism.

Quixote said...

"In which case, I don't understand what evidence would satisfy you in this regard." Good point. I had in mind intelligent life when you asked.

If we discovered chemical soups with molecules replicating on other planets or the same at the bottom of the ocean, etc., it would be pretty strong evidence for atheism.

One could say God was doing it, but all in all that would not seem to be the most likely explanantion.

"But as you admit yourself, it seems like we don't actually have observations to back up this statement." Well, not exactly. We have never created a person, if that is what you mean. But we have discovered calculus, philosophy, literature, space flight, computers, etc. There are literally a thousand examples. What we do not observe is matter creating these things or exhibiting any other sign of intelligence.

"If a hypothesis is hard to disprove because it is vaguely defined, in science it is also unlikely to have any good applications." I am OK with this statement.

"If there is a God, but we cannot know anything about his nature, is it meaningful to take God into consideration for your thoughts or actions?" I have alluded to many of his qualities: personality, intelligence, purpose, justice...to name a few. This is in fact, what the list is arguing in many ways. Either matter or something supernatural is eternal. Given these qualities as observations, are they more consistent with matter or something supernatural?

I would also turn this question around for you to consider. If there is no God, are your thoughts and actions meaningful--not meaningful in a merely human sense, simply a description of the way our brains work or the electrochemical reactions in them, but thoughts that have a real connection to the way the universe really is.

"My claim is that an unfalsifiable God hypothesis isn't merely scientifically unsatisfying, but also poor theology."

Very well put and I heartily agree. I have a much stronger theology that I hold; however, as I said in the post, this was not a defense of a particular religion, only a weak (in the philosophic sense) theistic proposition.

With that said, the scientific method is not particularly suited for the question of God.

"Finally, I would like to offer a new item for consideration for your lists:" I think the factors that are involved are too complex to isolate theism or atheism as sole causes. You would certainly argue if I cited the great atheist socities of the 20th century as evidence along this line of thinking.

Nevertheless, I have a close parallel on the list already: If the world grows into a near utopia due to science and education, I would consider it strong evidence for atheism. The thought is very close to the one you are suggesting, I think...

Johannes Brodwall said...

"If we discovered chemical soups with molecules replicating on other planets or the same at the bottom of the ocean, etc., it would be pretty strong evidence for atheism."

Do I understand you correct to view this as life without meaning or purpose? So fitting it into "a cosmic plan" would be difficult? This makes sense to me in light of your other question:

"If there is no God, are your thoughts and actions meaningful--not meaningful in a merely human sense, simply a description of the way our brains work or the electrochemical reactions in them, but thoughts that have a real connection to the way the universe really is."

This is a very interesting question. I think it very much sums up the real divide between the theistic and non-theistic world view.

I believe there is meaning in the subjective sense, and that this meaning is important because it affects my subjective well being, as well as the subjective well being of others. Writing this response is meaningful to me, and hopefully it means something to you as well. The fact that meaning is subjective doesn't make it less valid.

But I don't believe there is any bigger plan behind most of our daily actions. And if it was, it would still be the plan of some subjective meaning. The moon landing was meaningful to JFK, and ultimately to the people of the world. "The final solution" was meaningful to the German National Socialist party and it's leader. The fact that someone was planning these things makes it neither better or worse. I don't think that it helps me to view my actions as part of the plan of another subjective being, called God. It gives them no more or less ultimate meaning.

"Meaningful in a merely human sense" is in my view the only sense of "meaningful" we know about, and it's good enough for me. Adding God wouldn't even make it any better.

I hope this gives you some idea of why some of your criteria to deconvert makes little sense to many atheists.

"You would certainly argue if I cited the great atheist socities of the 20th century as evidence along this line of thinking."

You point that just removing religion doesn't make society better is taken. But: I have started reading world history, and it seems that all ancient societies were extremely immoral by today's standard, and at the same time very religious. Only when religion and dogma was removed from civics, as started happening in the US and Europe, have we been able to create societies that aren't extremely bellicose, homicidal, cruel and genocidal. Of course, removing religion hasn't always been a successful at creating a better society, especially not when it is replaced by another irrational set of dogmas.

Here is my claim, though, and you might not agree: No society constituted on religious doctrine has ever been worth living in.

I hope that this comment doesn't come off as being too proselytizing. Responding to your question of what an atheist might make out of "meaning" felt too important to skip.

exarch said...

Johannes Brodwall wrote:
"If there is a God, but we cannot know anything about his nature, is it meaningful to take God into consideration for your thoughts or actions?"

i.e. the god of the ever shrinking gaps. The smaller the gaps become, the more insignificant or irrelevant god becomes.

Quixote wrote:
"I have alluded to many of his qualities: personality, intelligence, purpose, justice...to name a few. This is in fact, what the list is arguing in many ways. Either matter or something supernatural is eternal. Given these qualities as observations, are they more consistent with matter or something supernatural?"

Believers often ascribe intelligence and eternality (among various other properties) to god as being prerequisites. I can think of no other reason to make those assumptions than to enable them to conclude god has to be the way they already have him in mind in order to fit the prerequisits they posit.

For what it's worth, it's not technically iompossible for god to have spent his last bit of energy creating the universe the way it is, leaving no other trace of himself other than the universe as proof of his existence, and exhausting his very being in order to make it happen. It would still fit everything we can observe, but it would mean the religious have no reason to worship god, because he's no longer about to grant them special favours at the moment of their demise. As such, god would lose his comforting purpose, and be a useless concept. So people PREFER it to be otherwise, and assume he still exists and watches over them.

As you can see, there are plenty more possibilities between "god exists" and" god does not exist", and none is drastically more ridiculous than the others. But from a strictly objective point of view, it just makes no sense to assume godly existence when none is required.

Quixote wrote:
"I would also turn this question around for you to consider. If there is no God, are your thoughts and actions meaningful--not meaningful in a merely human sense, simply a description of the way our brains work or the electrochemical reactions in them, but thoughts that have a real connection to the way the universe really is."

Why would they have to be?
Why does the universe need purpose? Why does any human being's life need a purpose at all?
What's wrong with just living life? Enjoying the ride so to speak?

It's this very sense of purpose/meaning (or the need for everything to have it in order to be complete) that makes most fundies incapable of understanding what evolution is REALLY all about. It's as if the very idea that something might exist, or be the way it is, for no reason at all, irks them in such a fundamental way that they just can't accept it, despite the evidence to support it.

For what it's worth, I think this is a part where religion or "god" plays the crutch so often referred to. Even things that seemingly make no sense or seem to have no purpose (like terrible things happening to good people) can be neatly reasoned away as still being part of god's great, mysterious plan.

Quixote said...

"The fact that meaning is subjective doesn't make it less valid."

In fact, it does, because in the final analysis it is meaningless.

But, in the quote you highlighted I was speaking along different lines. If your thoughts are merely the by-product of electro-chemical reactions in your brain, then they are not connected to the universe in any sense above any other natural process. Furthermore, they are not "yours" in any real sense.

"I hope this gives you some idea of why some of your criteria to deconvert makes little sense to many atheists."

Funny thing is, it makes sense to theists.

"and it seems that all ancient societies were extremely immoral"

From our point of view, perhaps; however, I would wager that they would consider themselves superior to us, morally, in many ways.

"have we been able to create societies that aren't extremely bellicose, homicidal, cruel and genocidal."

Do we live on the same planet?

"No society constituted on religious doctrine has ever been worth living in."

I tend to agree if you have theocracy in mind. If you live in the US or Europe, you do live in a society constituted on religious doctrine in no small part.

"I hope that this comment doesn't come off as being too proselytizing."

Not at all...thoroughly enjoyed it.

Quixote said...

Exarch,

"I can think of no other reason to make those assumptions"

It is generally done through revelation; however, for the reasons listed in my OP and through what we observe in nature it is rational to describe God as having personality and intelligence.

"it's not technically impossible for god to have spent his last bit of energy creating the universe the way it is"

Perhaps, but that would seem to make him more a created being than God. At any rate, it is impossible under classic theism.

"but it would mean the religious have no reason to worship god, because he's no longer about to grant them special favours"

This is not why we worship. To be fair, every atheist I have ever talked to said that if they believed in God, they would be in the front row of a church worshipping. if you believe, you worship.

"As such, god would lose his comforting purpose, and be a useless concept."

I say again, the absence of God is very useful concept to an atheist. Your line of reasoning here cuts both ways.

"But from a strictly objective point of view, it just makes no sense to assume godly existence when none is required."

This statement does not strike me as objective itself and is therefore self-refuting.

"Why does the universe need purpose? Why does any human being's life need a purpose at all?"

It doesn't. It's just that folks who claim this is the case rarely, if ever, act this way. The disconnect between philosophy and behavior is a challenge for atheism regarding meaning and purpose.

"It's as if the very idea that something might exist, or be the way it is, for no reason at all, irks them in such a fundamental way that they just can't accept it, despite the evidence to support it."


You have evidence that things exist or are the way they are for no reason at all? Please share.

"I think this is a part where religion or "god" plays the crutch"

See above...

"Even things that seemingly make no sense or seem to have no purpose (like terrible things happening to good people) can be neatly reasoned away"

This illustrates another challenge for atheism: if things have no purpose, why would we need to explain them away? Simply put, we wouldn't. Yet, universally, we do.

Johannes Brodwall said...

"If your thoughts are merely the by-product of electro-chemical reactions in your brain, then they are not connected to the universe in any sense above any other natural process."

Denying the significance of thoughts because they are connected to scientifically measurable processing makes no sense to me. Why would a non-natural process have more meaning?

I think your answer is "because God intended it", just like my action of pressing keys have meaning because I intent to write things with the letters on those keys.

But why should the intent of a god have more significance than the intent of any of us? As a matter of fact, doesn't your desire count for less if there's someone pulling your strings all the time? Isn't your intrinsic meaning even less? Or is He more important because He's bigger and badder? Omnipotent and stuff.

To most atheists, I believe, God is a very unsatisfying explanation for anything, because it just pushes the question one step further. If our meaning is God, then what's God's meaning? And if God doesn't need to have to have a meaning, why do we? (The same reasoning applies to the cosmological argument, mutatis mutandis)


"If you live in the US or Europe, you do live in a society constituted on religious doctrine in no small part."

Perhaps you could argue this. More importantly, though, these societies, like Rome in it's heyday, value freedom of conscience highly. The US was founded on it, and even the remaining countries with state churches accept competing faiths.

I would argue that it is the idea of freedom of conscience, freedom of belief, and from belief, that has made these societies much less prone to violence and cruelty than all rivals. The idea that no set of thoughts ipso facto give it's proponents a greater moral authority tempers our natural impulse for genocide.

At all every crossroad, the expansion of human dignity has been fought with nail and claw by organized religion. Hell, this year, 2008, in my home country Norway, one of the least religious societies in the world, a bishop is refusing to hire ministers who happen to be homosexual!

This, my friend, is who's trying to pull us back to the cruel, dark ages.

Quixote said...

"scientifically measurable processing"

Thoughts are scientifically measureable in either case, whether they rise solely from naturalistic causes or not. The idea seems to be that irrational matter forming thoughts about other irrational matter is irrational.

"doesn't your desire count for less if there's someone pulling your strings all the time?"

Not in a compatibilist system.

"To most atheists, I believe, God is a very unsatisfying explanation for anything"

I repsect this conclusion--after all, that's why they're atheists :)

"And if God doesn't need to have to have a meaning, why do we? (The same reasoning applies to the cosmological argument, mutatis mutandis)"

Not in my version of the CA. You may want to rehash it above...

"I would argue that it is the idea of freedom of conscience, freedom of belief, and from belief, that has made these societies much less prone to violence and cruelty than all rivals."

All those things help, to be sure. but they flourish under the protection of the American military that keeps the huns from Western Europe, not to mention Nazi's and the Red Army. I suspect the EU is about to flex its new-found power this century. Let's wait and see the restraining power of your ideals mentioned above when that time comes. I hope you are right, but if history is any teacher, it is doubtful. Regardless, if you folks turn the world into a rosy place, I have accounted for that possibility in my criteria. Good luck!

"The idea that no set of thoughts ipso facto give it's proponents a greater moral authority tempers our natural impulse for genocide."

I hope you are right about curtailingour natural impulse for genocide, in fact, I'm pulling for you. Unfortunately, there is a fundamental problem with this statement. If no set of thoughts give a proponent moral authority, then we have no way to determine that genocide is actualy wrong. it is clear from your statement, however, that you consider genocide to be wrong.

I agree with you. But then what we are saying is that at least one set of thoughts does carry moral authority. we are simply appealing to a higher moral standard, one that cannot be derived from matter itself.

"At all every crossroad, the expansion of human dignity has been fought with nail and claw by organized religion."

Agreed. But let's be fair and recognize that religion has instigated great advances in human dignity as well.

"a bishop is refusing to hire ministers who happen to be homosexual!"

Again, here is a moral judgment. If no set of thoughts gives its proponents moral authority, then we simply can't make moral judgments.

I have distant kinfolk in Norway. My mother may be travelling there this summer to visit them:)

"This, my friend, is who's trying to pull us back to the cruel, dark ages."

If any age was darker and more cruel than the 20th century, I'd be hard pressed to identify it...

Johannes Brodwall said...

I don't want this discussion to tangent into a general debate on religion, so I will not continue a few of the conversation point from before regarding what leads to a good society. I'm happy to discuss this as a response to another blog article, but I think it's a detour from the point here, which is to talk about what's compelling evidence for the existence or non-existence of God.

I will note, however, that we agree that a general difference in welfare between religious or non-religious societies, or between a particular religious society and other societies, would be compelling, but not necessarily definite evidence for the relevant position.

When it comes to your issues of meaning, morals and creation in particular, I want to explain my earlier comment a bit better.

Here is my understanding of these issues:

* The Cosmological Argument: Everything that exists is created. The universe must therefore have a creator. We call the creator God. In the argument, it lies inherent that God is exempt from the rule that everything must have a creator. If we can make an exception for God, why can't we make an exception for the universe?

* Meaning: Our intentions only have meaning if they are part of a larger plan. This plan is God's plan. God's plan doesn't need to be part of a larger plan. If we can make an exception for God's plan, the why can't we make an exception for human plans?

* Morality: Either our morality is relative, or it comes from a higher authority. We call this higher authority God. God's morality does not need to come from a higher authority than God. If we can make an exception for God's morality, then why can't we make an exception for human morality?

As you can see, these three questions all uses God as the termination of an explanation or justification. However, when it comes to a justification for God's existence, plan or morality, He gets a free pass. I say: No more free passes for God!

I hope this reasoning explains why I don't accept the criteria involving meaning, morality or creation in your original post as rational criteria, but rather arbitrary preconceptions.

I would like to end on a more general point: Before the 20th century, my reputation would be in danger for discussing these ideas, before the 19th, so would yours. Before the 18th century, my life would be in danger. Before the 17th, so would yours.

Our world is far from perfect, and progress is uneven. But when you look at progress century by century, I would say we're not doing too poorly.

Paul said...

Hello. I just thought you might like to read this article:
"A Christian Answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma" (link).

Quixote said...

" If we can make an exception for God, why can't we make an exception for the universe?"

I did just that in the original post. In short, because something exists, something must be eternal:
(from OP)That leaves two possibilities: matter or something supernatural being eternal. What is common with both of them is that something must be eternal.

"If we can make an exception for God's plan, the why can't we make an exception for human plans?"

I wouldn't base it on God's plan, but I get your drift. Simply put, if meaning is merely human, it will cease to exist and therefore becomes meaningless now, except in a sense relative to you. Moreover, if the meaning created by your brain is only the product of irrational causes--the interaction of atoms--it is irrational in the final analysis and does not connect with the universe in its entirety; it is merely human.

"If we can make an exception for God's morality, then why can't we make an exception for human morality?" See above.

"I hope this reasoning explains why I don't accept the criteria involving meaning, morality or creation in your original post as rational criteria, but rather arbitrary preconceptions."

I hear you loud and clear, no worries there mate. I would, though, have you think on your phrase: "but rather arbitrary preconceptions"

Meaning and morality are arbitrary conceptions in a materialistic worldview.

"I say: No more free passes for God!" Agreed. But i suggest that you re-read the original post. either the universe or God (or something) logically must have this pass. otherwise, something comes from nothing, which is absurd. Therefore, the question is: which is more likely given our observations?

"Before the 20th century, my reputation would be in danger for discussing these ideas, before the 19th, so would yours. Before the 18th century, my life would be in danger. Before the 17th, so would yours." Agreed. Problem is, they would be in danger right this minute in many areas of the world. And, conversely, in many areas of the world in the times you mentioned, we would be safe with our beliefs. Not much has changed, except perhaps that the modern world has developed much more efficient ways of killing.

"But when you look at progress century by century, I would say we're not doing too poorly."

I hope you're right ultimately, but the history of the 20th century doesn't support this claim.

Quixote said...

Paul,

Thanks for dropping by. Enjoyed the article!

You, apparently, understand why i placed the Euthyphro dilemma under things that are unconvincing:

6. The Euthyphro dilemma—in my opinion there are adequate defenses to the ED (ha ha!) and even if there weren’t, where there is an intelligent agent, there is likely an intelligent solution.

Johannes Brodwall said...

Our different views on whether the world is getting better are intriguing, and it leads me to wonder: Do you think that progress in human dignity in any way weakens the God hypothesis?

"But i suggest that you re-read the original post. either the universe or God (or something) logically must have this (free) pass."

Occam's razor. We know the universe exists. Adding God is "multiplying entities unnecessarily" if it only pushes the arguments about creation, morality, and meaning one step back.

"Meaning and morality are arbitrary conceptions in a materialistic worldview."

Not at all, and Bob Enyart's answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is key. Regarding the dilemma, my challenge is not the same as what Enyart responds to. I agree that his response to "how does God know that what is moral in fact is moral" is adequately defended if you presuppose the doctrine of the Trinity. Which is a big if!

My challenge is different: If God's rules are moral by some other standard, why do we need God?

First: What are God's standards for morality? Enyart gives good insight: What is moral has to be consistent. To paraphrase Einstein, the laws of morality has to be the same for all observers. In the immortal words of Attorney General Michael Mukasey: "I feel waterboarding would be torture if it was done to me."

In this, I agree with Enyart. A common misconception about atheism is that all atheists are relativists. This is not the case. Many atheists (but by no means all) share my view that there is such a thing as objective moral values. And they pretty much coincide with Enyart's.

"If it were demonstrated that good does not exist objectively or that good and evil are more likely to come from inanimate, irrational matter, I would deconvert to atheism" (from original post)

Would demonstrating that objective morality can exist without God bear any impact on your belief?

As I understand Enyart some theists also believe that goodness is independent of God, but God recognizes it as good. Enyart makes a compelling argument that an eternal triune God does not fail to recognize what is good. If the three persons of the godhead agree through eternity, their beliefs are probably internally consistent.

The consequence of this is that God is merely a guide to finding out what is good. However: I would claim that humans are quite fallible when it comes to understanding God's teachings about morality. And so I would pose a new challenge: If it could be demonstrated that we had better ways than religion of learning what is moral, would this have impact on your belief?

Quixote said...

"Do you think that progress in human dignity in any way weakens the God hypothesis?"

I wouldn't use the phrase "human dignity", but from the OP: If through science and education alone, humanity created a world where everyone was clothed, fed, and sheltered, and war became a thing of the past. This may be the lone criterion of this list that can be actualized, and it is currently possible. A related difficulty for theism would be if the world became so thoroughly evil that there was no discernable good in it.

"Occam's razor. We know the universe exists." You are changing the argument. Were were discussing why the concept of God is not an infinite regression. Yes, the universe exists. This knowledge really has nothing to say about whether anything else exists, except in its relation to our observations. it seems an arbitrary reason to restrict your belief options.

"Would demonstrating that objective morality can exist without God bear any impact on your belief?" That's the idea. would be interested in your ideas on this, though I suspect we are going to have to clarify what we mean by objective.

"Many atheists (but by no means all) share my view that there is such a thing as objective moral values." I agree.

"However: I would claim that humans are quite fallible when it comes to understanding God's teachings about morality." I agree. Seems obvious.

"If it could be demonstrated that we had better ways than religion of learning what is moral, would this have impact on your belief?"

No, since I believe that everyone is aware of the standard and that reason leads us to it, I would acknowledge that there are other ways of arriving at moral truths than religion.

Ash said...

I would like to add something to the discussion, its a thought that originates from a Dan Barker quote. It haunts me every time I start to pray for assistance. At times I feel that its inescapable reasoning keeps me from god. It makes me desperate for some way of proving how a miracle performed in my name wasn't at its root a deeply unforgivable injustice to all those desperate and innocent people whose prayers go forever unanswered.

"To think that the ruler of the universe will run to my assistance and bend the laws of nature for me is the height of arrogance. That implies that everyone else (such as the opposing football team, driver, student, parent) is de-selected, unfavored by God, and that I am special, above it all." - Dan Barker

Quixote said...

Hello Ash,

It may surprise you, or not, but I agree with your comment. To suppose that God is bound to provide a miracle in response to my prayers is arrogant, as if he were a cosmic bellhop.

This is why many Christians oppose Faith Theology, which is promoted by many TV evangelists in concert with the prosperity Gospel.

To clarify, God will always answer a supplication offered by a believer--difference is: sometimes he says no (or wait). As you point out in your quotation, there are an almost infinite number of variables to consider. Our prayers will not always be granted.

But, with that said, prayer is not so much for the one prayed to, but the pray-er. I would encourage you not to feel guilty for praying and not to give up on prayer. It will work miracles in you without any imposition on others. In fact, the more you pray, the better things will be for those around you where you are concerned :)

BTW-the Christian would never presuppose there are innocent people, but she would tell you you are special to God, even if he says no to you in your prayers. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed your post...feel free to post anytime.

JamusPsi said...

You're right: this atheist expects you to deconvert.

I will return to post some further thoughts soon.

Thank you for being so candid.

Quixote said...

Jamuspsi,

That's the funny thing about this exercise: it's obvious to atheists I should deconvert and it's equally obvious to theists that I shouldn't--all based on the same rationale.

Would enjoy reading your thoughts...

Dante said...

Though I respect your efforts, there are enough flaws to make a persons head hurt...

The horribly named "Big Bang" theorys (there are a lot of veriations) don't state the bang came from nothing; and there are other theorys out there as to the source. String theory had a cute idea with (gross simplification here) ribbons of dimentions of force touching eachother caused a burst of energy (our universe)... but that's not the point; Point is that they aren't saying it came from nothing, they're saying that our understanding and ability to see past that point fall apart. The reason for this is simple, time/space/matter... all of it get really screwed up under those conditions.

Truely and fully take in this concept and you'll see an example.

Time bends around itself, so in a way, there was no time before the big bang, so how can there be a before the big bang?

Truely taking in the meaning of that gives you an edge of the nightmare of sorting out that event is.

Regardless though, the point of the statement isn't deflected by this, the point of the statement is 'well where did it come from'.

Simply not knowing this is not evidence for a god anymore then it is evidence against him. Much light not knowing where thunder comes from isn't proof for or against god.

....
you know... it's sad but I think I just lost the ability to fight this one. I'll be honest, I'm tired of the whole damn argument.

I could care less if you have faith, if it makes you happy, enjoy your time alive however you see fit. My argument isn't against your faith, my argument is it's application and implications.

Children told not to question the world
People controlled by the leaders of faith
Hate 'justified' by a book written by savages. (Owning slaves, women are servents, and gay bashing, all allowed)

A person who lives for their god to be happy is one thing, they are fine. The weakness it allows is that a charismatic leader takes the whole 'flock' and guides their hates. They tell them their hate is what their god wants. Your leaders put words into your gods mouth, beliving themselves to be him.

I give the hell up. Seriously, if blind faith makes you happy, go for it... but for the love of god why can't you see the cost?

You think those children who were molested aren't mentally ruined to this day, beliving their god wanted that man behind them pounding away?

You think the people beaten and whipped in 'exorsisms' untill they cry out for mercy admitting sins they never did for a release... and then calmly say it was gods will... you think they are alright? (and yes, this goes on today regularly, not 100's of years ago)

You think the family who refuse medical treatment for their children because of their gods will are sane? Letting their child wither and die while their brothers and sisters watch for a GOD DAMN MONTH!? (poor child became diabetic, parents thought they could pray it better)

Religion is a powerful tool, and your owners weild it well. And I'm sure you're not the kind of person that would do any of this; but you justify it by defending it.

I for one would hope a person of faith would find more importance on facing down the issues in people that represent them, yet we see how many blind eyes were turned to all of this in the past.

Does this disprove god? No. You're welcome to your faith. Just know why we tire of it.

I'm sure this post is 100x more rude then I intend, I'm a pretty calm person... but I think I finally hit my limit.

Quixote said...

Dante,

I take no offense at your candor, partly because I think it is misdirected. Do you really believe that all evil in the world comes from religion? Do you turn a blind eye, as you put it, to evils performed by atheists? I doubt you do on either account.

Evil is a human condition; hence, Christianity regognizes sin in the world, which your philosophy denies--except when it attempts to disprove the existence of God.

With that said, I think we have common ground in denouncing all types of evil, whether within the church or without. I fail to see the disagreement here...

As for the BB, if you go back and read more carefully, you will notice that I am fine with the concept of an eternal universe. Your characterization of the BB is not "something arising from nothing." It postulates an eternal universe...

PS-faith is not blind :)

Ot said...

I want to make it clear to the debating atheist that a belief in god is purely on an emotional level. Emotion is independent of reason and therefore facts and science cannot penetrate such beliefs. Let me give an example of this, initially (i belive) given by Sam Harris:

A mother's oldest son goes off to a war and a month later the mother receives a phone call saying her son is dead. She is struck with absolute grief. The next day she gets another call saying a mistake was made and her son is alive. The question is, was the initial grief she felt genuine? Of course it was, and no one would argue otherwise, even though such feelings were independent of actual fact.

A theist is on a similar level where they know their feelings toward their religion are absolutely true, even though real world facts do not back it up. In other words, to convince a true theist, logic, reasoning, and science must be left at the door.

For example, I can prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead. It's a know fact that people do not rise from the dead on their own. I could go through the science of it all, but, as Quixote
has responded to other such claims, it does not mean that Jesus, son of God, could not rise from the dead. Therefore, to falsify the Christian religion would require an argument of an emotional appeal.

Though what I'm about to say would be considered blasphemous, I do not intend to offend. Theist wish to presuppose that Jesus is God and start the discussion from there, while atheist wish to start with "there was no Jesus," or "Jesus was a man." What if we presuppose, instead, that Jesus was Satan and start the discussion there. We would suddenly realize that the two billion Christian around the world are worshiping Satan. Praying to Jesus would be praying to Satan and the cross would be considered a false idol in the eyes of God. This seems reasonable because Satan, in his trickery, would have spent 35 years healing the sick so as to amass the billions of Christian souls across two thousand years who worship and pray to him. By saying he was God and the son of God, he has made every Christian pray to a false idol, the crucifix. A Christian might defend that they only pray to God and never to Jesus, but one shouldn't follow the words of Jesus because, as any good liar does, Satan would mix together truth and lies so one cannot distinguish. In other words, even if the miracles and life story are all true, one cannot prove that Jesus is not Satan. As a matter of fact, the New-Testament makes just as much if not even more sense.

Now I'm not well versed in Christianity and I'm sure that many can debate this. However, by presupposing that Jesus is Satan, the New-Testament still seems to make sense. By Satan saying that one can only get into heaven through him, he just screwed every Christian out there. This shows the weakness of jumping to a conclusion without sufficient evidence: you can jump in any direction, even the wrong direction.

This also works with god. Suppose instead of being all loving, God was a prankster. If that's the case, then the holy bible makes even MORE sense as he constantly contradicts himself and has all of these silly rules.

Now I'm not trying to be patronizing, just being crude for effect. My point simply is, read the entire bible presupposing Jesus as Satan and you'll it could just as easily been a giant Satan hoax.

Quixote said...

"For example, I can prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead."

If you prove this, I will cease to be a christian on the spot.

"Now I'm not trying to be patronizing, just being crude for effect. My point simply is, read the entire bible presupposing Jesus as Satan and you'll it could just as easily been a giant Satan hoax."

No offense taken. I'm glad you stopped by. Sorry to not respond promptly--I haven't been here in a while.

Just in case you return: You are of course correct. If Satan masqueraded as Jesus, all Christians are deceived. In fact, the Pharisees accused Jesus of this in the NT.

If the miracle stories are all true, then Jesus must be who he claimed to be. The devil is a created being, according to Christianity, and therefore cannot produce the miraculous.

I believe the more you expose yourself to the Bible, the less inconsistent and contradictory it will become to you. Give it a try...

The sufficient evidence seems to me to be the general reliability of the NT accounts and the resurrection of Christ. But I'll defer to you--if you can disprove it, I'll deconvert. No emotionalism required. But I'll be happy to consider it as well...

JSPEEDSK8ER said...

First off let me say I am a Christian and have been since my teen years. I'm not going to set here and try to prove to an atheist that God and Christ are year by posting scientific theories that they exist. All I can say is although I have never starved in my life, my life took a extreme turn to the good when my son ask me to read the bible to him and I did and still am. In reading it got me not just reading, but studying. That lead me to obeying what the bible teaches, even down to giving tithes to my local church (not some quack job on TV knocking people over the head and telling them they are healed). Since then life has been perfect and I saw an immediate turn once I started doing what God teaches us to do. Not half doing because it doesn't work that way, but doing.

My biggest question is this... WHY ARE ATHEIST SO CONCERNED ABOUT PROVING THESE IS NOT GOD TO BELIEVERS? If you don't believe in God that's your business, I just hope at the end of your and my life that you were right and I am not for your sake.

Lastly to the last poster. You are wrong about Satan not being able to produce miracles or signs and wornders. Read Revelations and you'll see this. So the other person who is saying what if Christ was actually Satan could have an arguement. However if you look to the Old Testament and read every prophecy of Christ's coming it is highly unlikely.

I have an employee that is an atheist and we get along fine. I don't think their is much I could do to convince him of my beliefs but I do pray for him (although I don't tell him about it... lol). He has actually came to me with questions in the past about how I can go through the day without ever letting one prophane word out of my mouth and things like that, so at least he sees there is something different about me. I've told him that I believe in Christ and that sin is wrong. I tell him that although I probably sin just as much as everyone else that I at least try to control the easy sins to control and not let them out of my mouth. That's about all I know to say to him but at least he ask me things every now and then.

Anyway, I'm sorry because I know I said I'd keep this short and I didn't. Sorry.

JSPEEDSK8ER said...

Btw... sorry for all of the typos in my above post. I'm probably the worlds wrost for not proof reading something until after it is too late. Hopefully you guys can read through them.

Karla said...

Amazing. I enjoyed your essay. Very thoughtful. If my being a follower of Christ was based on intellectual reason alone I would concur with deconverting if atheism could prove the things you ask of it. And I would say all of Christianity would be intellectually debased if such a thing were possible. As an apologist I do place a great deal of importance on giving reasonable answers to the evidences for Christianity.

Yet, it cannot be completely reduced to an intellectual argument, because there is the huge relational aspect of knowing.

On one hand you can know something intellectually. You can know facts backwards and forwards and give all reasons and persuasions. But then that only goes so far. I can know everything factually about a person and not know the person relationally at all. Christianity is unique in that it is historical and not simply mystical and spiritual appealing only to emotion and relationship. But it is two fold being both historical, factual, knowable intellectually, and knowable relationally.

With only the intellect it isn't complete. But with only the relational it misses its factual foundation. So both are vital.

However if we only compare the worldview of Christian theism and the worldview of atheism as an intellectual belief then your essay is impeccable.

heliobates said...

When I get involved in a thread, things usually get pedantic and pointless.

I have nothing to add, except to say that you're a hoopy frood, Quixote.

Brandon Muller said...

About morality--theism is in the exact same boat as atheism when it comes to finding grounds for an objective morality.

If morality is objective because it is based on God's inherent nature, then you have to ask, "Did God choose his nature?" If he did, then what standard did he use? If he didn't, then what if God's nature was different? What if God's nature was full of things we consider evil?

To say that God's nature *must* be good as we understand it is just an assertion with no weight of force behind it.

For instance, what if God was a practical joker? What if the problem of evil was solved by there being a God who enjoyed fooling people--helping them, harming them, acting inconsistent and laughing at all the various beliefs (and non-belief) that arise?

We couldn't prove or disprove a God like that because everything becomes evidence for it. Whatever one uses as evidence against practical joker god, the response would be: "That's what Practical Joker God wants you to think!"

So, to say that God's nature HAS to be a good means that you can disprove the possibility of practical joker god. Unless you can do that, there is no objective morality.

Good luck!

Karla said...

God has to be an eternal good God in order for morality to exist at all. You have to know what Good is to know that something is not good and thus evil. If you don't know what white looks like you can't know that something is off white or dirty white. You have to have an eternal good to measure that there is a non-good. If God wasn't eternally good, or didn't exist at all -- we would have no moral understanding.

Brandon Muller said...

Karla, some religious people think that the death penalty is a moral evil, while others think it is a moral good.

So, if god exists and if god is eternal and if god is good, why do people who believe in god have different opinions as to what is morally good?

That alone disproves your assertion that to make moral judgements there has to be an eternal good god to make judgements from.

We can make moral judgements based on axioms such as love, compassion, and fairness. No god needed. Indeed, the idea of god adds nothing to our moral understanding. Unless you can disprove the possibility of Practical Joker God you have no business asserting that god must be good.

Karla said...

“Karla, some religious people think that the death penalty is a moral evil, while others think it is a moral good.

So, if god exists and if god is eternal and if god is good, why do people who believe in god have different opinions as to what is morally good?”

Good question. I think we apologist often give the wrong impression when we hit on the moral argument for God’s existence. Philosophically it is true, however, Biblically speaking something is lacking in the argument because it focuses on goodness being linked to rules of right and wrong versus goodness being in reality righteousness that flows from being in relationship with God through Jesus. I hope I am not making this more confusing, but I think the distinction is important. Jesus said that the fulfillment of all law ever given to man is found in loving God and loving people. We are enabled to love man when we are tapped into the love of God and allow His love to flow from us which changes our actions to ones that are ‘good’.

People who have an intellectual belief that God is good will differ on what goodness is because if they aren’t living in communion with God their lives cannot exemplify God’s goodness. In America most people say they are Christians and yet they have never really experienced God. They think being a Christian means they believe God exist or they had Christian parents. They haven’t experienced the tangible relationship with the living God. This is not their fault. It is the responsibility of those who have this relationship with God to represent Him to those who do not and to be examples of who He is with their lives. Sometimes we fail at that representation for we are human and we are learning just like the next person to live in this manner from a place of intimacy with God. I think to look at human failure is not to really answer the question of if there is a good God. What we know in our minds about morality will become in greater agreement amongst those who really know God and are known by Him. Even Christians often get hung up in looking at rules over relationship and consequently turning Christianity into a religion of man instead of a relationship of God.

Philosophically speaking, even if we differ on what things are good and what things are evil we still all agree that there is good and there is evil. There is right and there is wrong. We don’t live instinctually, we reason that we ought to do one thing and not another. Even if the next person reverses the two that “ought” still rears up. Where does a sense of “ought” even come from? Why “ought” we to do anything? Unless we have knowledge from some source outside ourselves that gives us the moral compass. We can reason ourselves out of doing what’s right and we can become stripped of moral understanding through repeated choices to do what is wrong like psychopaths and such. Why this struggle over our actions if it doesn’t really matter in our souls? The fall of man from union with God is the best explanation of why we struggle and do the things we ought not to do and yet desire something greater than our current struggle in this world.

Brandon Muller said...

Well, philosophically it is not true unless you can disprove the possibility of Practical Joker God. Again, you can't assume god's nature unless you can prove it.

You bring up an interesting discussion--where do we even get our moral conscience? I think the best explanation is that morality has evolved over time through a combination of experience (human interaction), reasoning (development of moral philosophies), and most important of all: an appreciation of the axiomatic emotions that underlie all morality--love, compassion, fairness, etc.

I have no quarrel with anyone claiming that our moral sense comes to us from god or saying that it's the best explanation. I do have problems when people say it's the *only* explanation or that morality *only* makes sense if god exists or that objective morality exists because of god.

I think morality is a complicated area whether someone believes in god or not.

Karla said...

“You bring up an interesting discussion--where do we even get our moral conscience? I think the best explanation is that morality has evolved over time through a combination of experience (human interaction), reasoning (development of moral philosophies), and most important of all: an appreciation of the axiomatic emotions that underlie all morality--love, compassion, fairness, etc.”

Has it really? I think sociologist can show that we are not becoming more moral as time goes on. We still deal with the same vices as we did thousands of years ago. I think the only difference today is that we deny more things as vices than we did before, but it doesn’t really make them virtues. How do we give value to one emotion over another without a standard outside ourselves? Why do we value love over hate? Or fairness over unfairness? Or justice over injustice? How do we know that love, fairness, and justice are virtues and the opposite vices? Truly how can we arrive at that conclusion?

”I have no quarrel with anyone claiming that our moral sense comes to us from god or saying that it's the best explanation. I do have problems when people say it's the *only* explanation or that morality *only* makes sense if god exists or that objective morality exists because of god.”

It sounds to me that your contention is with legalism or absolutism (ie religion) more so than God Himself. I think if you really knew who God is you would come to know God isn’t a legalistic God. This system we live in of right and wrong, good and evil, would never have come about had humanity not made the wrong choice in the beginning and brought about our awareness of morality. Prior to the fall of man, man only knew the goodness of God. No evil had entered in for evil is the absence of good not the presence of something else. Man had freedom to love or not to love for that was the only way He could truly be alive in love. But once man rebelled against God and thought he could do things his way he created a separation between him and God and consequently him and righteousness. We’ve been trying to get back to that Eden ever since. That is why we feel things aren’t right. That is why we decry evil and yet have evil in our own hearts. That is why this struggle exists. Yet God had already prepared a way—the way for us to be reconciled to Him and be given a free gift of being made righteous so that we no longer have to strive to do good, but goodness, and love, and compassion flows from us as we are in Him and it flows from Him through us. That way is through Jesus Christ. Through Him we become righteous as a free gift and we live righteously because we rest comfortably in His love which in turn flows from us. That is why Jesus said that loving God and loving our neighbor fulfills all the commandments of God for it was never to be about fulfilling the letter of a law, but living naturally from love. Anything else is religion. Any imposing of behaving to earn God’s acceptance or to be accepted in a family of believers is religion and God is clear He doesn’t like that and isn’t about that. That is the corruption we have brought to His reality and not a result of His decree. The God that is often depicted doesn’t come off sounding very loving. But that’s our mistake, not His. That’s our failure. Not His. We Christians owe everyone an apology for misrepresenting our Father.

I think the more Christians represent the Father’s love in this way the less anyone will have contention with God and the more people might want to experience such a tangible relationship with their loving God.

Brandon Muller said...

I meant that the idea of morality itself has evolved or developed, not that we are "more moral" today. That's not to say there aren't some issues we have made progress on in the last few hundred years--human rights, for instance.

"How do we give value to one emotion over another without a standard outside ourselves?" Anyone who has ever experienced love can tell you it's valuable. Love, compassion, fairness--these are self-evident values and that is why they are shared by 99.9999...% of mankind.

Can I, through pure logic, devoid of emotion, prove to you that love is a virtue? No. No one can. It has to be an axiom (and that's what makes love and the values that come from it admirable, by the way). That's why morality is subjective (but not necessarily relative). And, as I've pointed out repeatedly, invoking god doesn't make love objective, either.

Let's pretend that you are correct about love needing a "god standard" for us to value it over hate. Now let's pretend there is a world where there is no god. Let's also imagine people in that world showing each other love and compassion. You honestly believe that they would have way to value what they are experiencing? If two people love each other in a godless universe then, according to you, their love is unjustified, baseless, worthless, and hollow.

That's ridiculous (and an unprovable assertion, I might add).

Do you need god to figure out that life would be better if everyone acted nicer to each other?

Think about this--do moral actions have ANY practical benefit to our lives here on earth? If so, we can figure out those benefits ourselves--no god needed. If you can show me a widely-held moral value which has ZERO benefit to our lives here on earth then you would you have a moral value that could ONLY be given to us by god. Can you think of one? Good luck.

My "quarrel" is with apologists (like perhaps yourself) who claim that morality only makes sense if there is a god and that the existence of god makes morality objective.

I'll say it again--you must disprove the possibility of a Practical Joker God before you can assert that the existence of god makes morality objective.

You think love is valuable because god is love. Well, god could have been hate or apathy. So much for your "objective standard". Again, disprove the possibility of Practical Joker God before you assume god's moral nature in anymore of your responses.

Karla said...

“I meant that the idea of morality itself has evolved or developed, not that we are "more moral" today.”

Please explain the distinction.

“That's not to say there aren't some issues we have made progress on in the last few hundred years--human rights, for instance.”

Well, I’m not so sure about that. There are many nations that do not value human rights. I’ve talked with some atheist that believe that humans are valuable, but others who claim that there is no intrinsic value to human life and if all the world decided tomorrow that we ought to euthanize those over 70 then it would become “right” to do so. This is an extreme position, but it’s the result of not having a value system to appeal to outside of our human reasoning.


You say it is self-evident that love is to be more valued than hate, but cannot prove it logically. How about me saying that God’s existence is self-evident, but I can’t prove it. I think you would demand proof of God’s existence or in the very least a good deal of evidence. So by what grounds do you assert that love is better than hate without a standard to point to?

“And, as I've pointed out repeatedly, invoking god doesn't make love objective, either.”

A loving God who created us with the ability to love explains things more than saying we just evolved that way.

”Let's pretend that you are correct about love needing a "god standard" for us to value it over hate. Now let's pretend there is a world where there is no god. Let's also imagine people in that world showing each other love and compassion. You honestly believe that they would have way to value what they are experiencing? If two people love each other in a godless universe then, according to you, their love is unjustified, baseless, worthless, and hollow.”

If we love because God first loved us then we wouldn’t know what a godless world with or without love would look like. We live in the real world. You have to posit love because we know love. You don’t know a godless world would have love. You are positing love as a constant and you can’t know it to be that. You can’t know that it’s independent of God. You can say you don’t believe in God and still love, but you can’t say God didn’t create you with the ability to love irrespective of your intellectual assent to the fact.

I on the other hand have experienced God and know that He is and that He is the source of love. I know you can experience that too, even if you haven’t yet.



”Do you need god to figure out that life would be better if everyone acted nicer to each other?”

You can say it would be more beneficial to love based on what we see love do, but you can’t say we “ought” to love for what reason have we to be beneficial to another if it doesn’t please us to be? You still have that moral “ought” rearing up that hasn’t been explained by beneficial or not beneficial.

”Think about this--do moral actions have ANY practical benefit to our lives here on earth? If so, we can figure out those benefits ourselves--no god needed. If you can show me a widely-held moral value which has ZERO benefit to our lives here on earth then you would you have a moral value that could ONLY be given to us by god. Can you think of one? Good luck.”

Why would you think that God given moral conscious would not benefit us? This is erroneous to say that we would have to find a moral ought that isn’t benefiting us to know that it came from God. A good God would give us a moral consciousness for our good thus it would all benefit us and be evident to us that it is beneficial.


”My "quarrel" is with apologists (like perhaps yourself) who claim that morality only makes sense if there is a god and that the existence of god makes morality objective.”

We all live in the real world so an atheist is going to see morality at work and have a moral conscious just as a theist will. I think Christianity explains the reason for it best, but one doesn’t have to be a Christian to understand there is a moral “ought” we can’t get away from.

”I'll say it again--you must disprove the possibility of a Practical Joker God before you can assert that the existence of god makes morality objective.”

If we need a perfect standard by which to measure all things be it morality, knowledge, good etc. then that standard would not be a practical joker. He would be eternally good. How can we know anything to be true without a constant standard by which to ensure we can know anything at all? Ontology must proceed epistemology to have any coherence of knowledge at all.

”You think love is valuable because god is love. Well, god could have been hate or apathy.”

No He couldn’t have just as easily. God is love, because God is good. The only things God hates is the things that hurt us, such as sin because of His love. He has revealed His undying love to us by the gift of His Son. This was the ultimate act of love do pay our debt to sin so that justice would justify us instead of condemn us when He had done no wrong. He who is perfect in goodness and love and holiness paid the price for us who rebelled against all that is good to redeem us back to that which is righteous freely without any ransom. He paid our debt. This is love.

Feel free to come visit my blog as well.

Brandon Muller said...

The distinction is the difference between saying how the idea of morality developed in the first place and whether we have gotten "more moral" since it developed.

Of course there are nations that are horrible on human rights. Is everything black and white with you? My point is that, overall, we have made much progress in human rights. Slavery, although still alive today, is much more widely condemned now than anytime before in human history.

My point is that humans value love even though we cannot logically prove it is valuable. It is impossible to prove it logically. And if you could prove it logically, you would rob it of the emotions that make it love in the first place!

So, since we *do* value the emotion of love, it becomes axiomatic. It's not the same thing as god's existence because god's existence is not an emotional feeling that everyone shares. Love, being an emotion is not a "true or false" propositional statement such as whether or not god exists.

Love is better than hate because love is categorically different from hate and we value love. We don't value hate. Is this a slam dunk argument? Not from a logical, objective viewpoint. But--here's the kicker--yours is no better. Your standard for choosing love over hate is a god whose existence you cannot prove and whose character you cannot prove. Yeah, that's objectively logical. Welcome to a world where love is not logically objective, god believer. You've been here the whole time, it's about time you recognize it.

"A loving God who created us with the ability to love explains things more than saying we just evolved that way."

Of course, I disagree, BUT this is what you need to understand: I have nothing against you thinking that a loving god explains morality better than a godless universe. Your mistake comes when you assert that a loving god is the ONLY explanation. And that's simply not true.

**Important!**
I'm not arguing that a non-god based morality is better than a god-based morality. All I'm saying is that a god-based morality is just as logically unprovable and non-objective as a non-god based one.


"If we love because God first loved us then we wouldn’t know what a godless world with or without love would look like."

Yes, that's true. IF your assumption is correct.

"We live in the real world. You have to posit love because we know love. You don’t know a godless world would have love."

You don't know that it wouldn't. (Seriously, you didn't anticipate this obvious comeback?)

"You are positing love as a constant and you can’t know it to be that."

And (ho-hum) you don't know that it isn't. But, it's certainly not hard to imagine that where there are humans, there would be human emotions. It's not much of a stretch! :)

"You can’t know that it’s independent of God."

You can't know that it is dependent on god. (Is it sinking in yet?)

"You can say you don’t believe in God and still love, but you can’t say God didn’t create you with the ability to love irrespective of your intellectual assent to the fact."

And you can't prove that he did.

Are we done now? Isn't it obvious? You keep pretending that my views are objectively indefensible, while at the same time asserting that yours are! YOU ARE IN THE SAME BOAT AS ME.

Neither of us can prove that morality is logically objective. The difference is that I don't think it is necessary.

"I on the other hand have experienced God and know that He is and that He is the source of love. I know you can experience that too, even if you haven’t yet."

Actually, I accepted Jesus into my life long ago and made a commitment to love him, follow him, and have a deep, personal relationship with him. I have since come to the conclusion that my feelings, emotions, and experiences (and they were awe-inspiring!) were self-created. Perhaps what I felt really was god, but don't act like you have somehow experienced something that I never did. I severely doubt that. Alas, our subjective experiences are no use in a discussion of what is logically or objectively provable.

The "ought" you refer to is our conscience. You believe that it comes from god. That's fine. I believe it comes from an evolutionary past and is shaped by our nurture. One of us is wrong, but either of us could be right. If your previous statements are any indication, you probably think that yours is 100% logically true and cannot NOT be true while mine is 100% false and cannot even be true!

That's the difference between us. You live in unwarranted certainty while I do not.

"Why would you think that God given moral conscious would not benefit us? This is erroneous to say that we would have to find a moral ought that isn’t benefiting us to know that it came from God. A good God would give us a moral consciousness for our good thus it would all benefit us and be evident to us that it is beneficial."

You, once again, misunderstand. My point was that my idea of morality would be DISPROVEN if you could point to a moral rule that is not beneficial to us. I would have no explanation for that. The only (or best) explanation for that would be god! But since you cannot point to one, then my theory that humans have simply formulated moral rules that are beneficial to us still stands as a possibility. I was trying to help you out. Thanks for showing that my moral theory still stands.

"If we need a perfect standard by which to measure all things be it morality, knowledge, good etc. then that standard would not be a practical joker. He would be eternally good. How can we know anything to be true without a constant standard by which to ensure we can know anything at all? Ontology must proceed epistemology to have any coherence of knowledge at all."

How do you know god is good? What standard do you use? Oh, that's right, god's standard. But wait, that's the standard you are trying to prove! You are trying to prove god is good by using a standard you get from a good god. Circular logic. Try again.

Also, you say we need a perfect standard by which to measure knowledge? What does that mean?

And how can you assume a perfect standard by which to measure good when every moral rule is conditional? Most hold up 99% of the time, but every single one has a situation where they can be overruled. Even the usual apologist "torturing babies" standard could be morally acceptable if torturing a baby would save the lives of everything on earth.

A perfect standard would be one that could be applied the same every single time.

I don't think we need a perfect standard by which to measure all things.

"No He couldn’t have just as easily [been evil]. God is love, because God is good."

How do you know god is good? How do you judge him as being good? By using a standard that assumes he is good? You are just asserting without proving. Stop it.

Is it starting to sink in yet?

You have to ASSUME that god is good to then obtain a standard of good. That's not objective.

By the way, I did visit your blog a few days ago. I read about your visit to a "healing" convention. Yeah. I doubt I'll ever bother to visit your blog again. But thanks for the invitation.

Karla said...

Brandon, I'm sorry I haven't had time to respond. I will get back with you after Thanksgiving. I'm sorry the healing thing bothers you. I've witnessed too many miracles (the most extraordinary this past Sunday) to not believe in healing. How much better evidence can you get of God's existence than His followers living lives like Jesus including the miracles.

Quixote said...

Brandon,

Thanks for not starting with Euthyphro proper. That speaks volumes for you, and I'm glad you dropped by. I don't check this thing as often as I should, so I'm sorry I came in late.

With regard to your first post, then, are you suggesting our observation of good, and the notions of good we derive from it, are somehow incorrect?

Brandon Muller said...

Quixote,

I don't think our notions of what is good and bad are incorrect. In fact, it is we humans ourselves who decide such things!

The fact that pretty much everyone agrees with what is good and what is bad (based on axioms) is what leads people to the (incorrect) idea that therefore morality is objective.

It's not in an ultimate sense. We have legitimate moral dilemmas where the case could be made for either choice. But we overwhelmingly agree with most choices in most situations. That doesn't mean that therefore morality is objective.

Here is how I define the terms:

Objective: something that everyone must logically agree to; contains the force of logic and no emotional appeal.

Subjective: something that is based on completely non-logical grounds. You cannot make any reasoned arguments in a subjective subject.

I think morality doesn't fall under either definition. It's not objective, because we have legitimate moral disagreements. An objective morality would easily solve all of those and that's not the world we live in.

On the other hand, morality is not subjective because our consensuses are based on reasons derived from axioms--things we value as humans. Yes, the ultimate source is emotional/non rational, but the reasons we derive from those axioms are not. We can legitimately defend our moral choices with rational argument. We can applaud moral choices and condemn immoral ones because 99.9% of everyone agrees with the fundamental axioms.

The ones who don't--we call them psychopathic and we lock them away for public safety specifically because there is something wrong in their brains that prevents them from accepting those axioms.

As I argued with Karla (I think), if morality doesn't have an ultimate emotional/non-rational basis (the axioms we value), then it fails to be truly moral in the way we experience it. Breaking a moral rule would be like getting a math problem wrong. And helping someone in need would be like correctly adding two plus two.

Brandon Muller said...

I think I need to clarify something in my previous post.

I can't say morality is not subjective. The ultimate source of it (value axioms) is subjective.

What I was trying to say is that it's not subjective in the specific sense of "then anything goes! No one can condemn or applaud the actions of others".

Our subjective morality is pretty darn objective in practice since, again, almost all agree with the axioms. If someone agrees with the axioms of morality, then it wouldn't make sense for them to say they don't want to participate with the rest of humanity in what rationally follows from those axioms.

So, instead of talking about whether morality is objective or subjective, we should talk about whether morality is based on values we all agree on and what are the choices that logically follow from those values.

Karla said...

I don't think that objective means everyone agrees upon it. I think it only means we aren't the ones who ultimately create it. You can have something be an objective standard and no one agree to accept that standard and thus subjectivize something that ought not be subjective.

It seems you want to place value on moral good and yet deny a standard of good on which good can be based.

How can we attribute different actions as good or bad or even right or wrong without value? We have to value human life first in order to say that we ought not to harm a person, but where does human life get it's value? Hitler declared the Jewish people invaluable and proceeded to exterminate them. How can another judge those actions as wrong unless someone outside of humanity gives all human life value?

Quixote said...

Brandon,

You appear to be one of the more rational folks I have met online, and, again, I'm really pleased to be having this conversation. And, yet again, I apologize for not checking this site as I should.

I appreciate your felt need to define terms. It makes conversation possible.

I'm also pleased to note that we agree that everyone seems to recognize a basic right and wrong, even, as you say, that there are some differences in our particular conceptions. I think this observation is both obvious and important.

Thus, when you ask/assert the following:

"How do you know god is good? How do you judge him as being good? By using a standard that assumes he is good? You are just asserting without proving. Stop it."

I say, as you alluded to, our conception of good and evil is a posteriori, and useful in recognizing that God's nature is good. We don't require an arbtrary standard; we know what good is, and therefore don't have any difficulty in acknowledging that God's nature as good.

Now, with regard to your definition of objectivity, I would note in passing that it appears impossible, or at best highly improbable, to be able to move from an indicative statement to an imperative one. What seems to be reasonable in and of itself does not seem to require a moral imperative to be attached to it.

For example, you might arrive by the dictates of reason to a conclusion that our species should be preserved. But what moral binding can this possibly have, or what binding could it have on me just because you believe it is the deliverance of reason? I might tell you to sacrifice your loved one to the greater cause, and protect my loved one.

This is where the theist claim of subjectivity, admittedly distinct from your definition, arises. Let me be clear that I believe that you can have an objective morality--as you define it--and live a moral life, without devolving into the moral relativism you highlighted. However, without a truly objective standard, that is enforceable, it seems that morality is relative in the sense that one group's reason will be equal with another's, even when they contradict each other.

So, I'm torn with respect to your post, in that I agree that reason can accord with morality; it just can't deliver morality ultimately. (which again is not the same as saying you are not moral. For all I know, you may lead a more moral life than I)

"we should talk about whether morality is based on values we all agree on and what are the choices that logically follow from those values."

I'm all for this. You've got a great attitude. I see a potential difficulty though. Karla and I are Christians. We would naturally think that it is moral to worship God. I don't know your background, but perhaps this is not a value we could agree on. Is there a contingency plan in your system for such disagreements?

"So, if god exists and if god is eternal and if god is good, why do people who believe in god have different opinions as to what is morally good?"

Sin.

"We have legitimate moral dilemmas where the case could be made for either choice."

I'd be interested to hear a couple of examples for this.

OK, there's so much going on here it's difficult to get to everything. If you think I glossed over something, missed something, or purposely ignored something of yours, let me know. I'd like to do justice to your efforts.

Brandon Muller said...

Karla,

I'm glad you brought up Hitler. Hitler actually accepted the axioms of morality that we all accept. He didn't go around saying, "I don't care about fairness!" or "I don't care about love." However, his application of those axioms were horribly wrong.

How can I judge him? Well, I'm judging him by his own standards. Our own standards. The standard IS the axiom--fairness and compassion. Their application is self-evident. When it comes to fairness, he was not fair to the Jews (and many others).

I don't want to place value on moral good. That's backwards. Moral good is good because it has value. The value we place on it. Whatever humans value--that's moral good. And I mean that in the sense of the moral conscience--not hedonism.

Brandon Muller said...

Quixote,

Yes, we can use our moral conscience to say that god is good, but if our moral conscience is meaningless unless it is grounded in the standard of god's goodness, then you are ultimately affirming god's goodness by saying that good is what god is. And since we can't rule out the possible existence of a Practical Joker god, then we can't assert that god's goodness is *the* objective goodness of all possible existence. God, having no control over his nature, cannot ensure that his nature is one of goodness.

So, that makes goodness arbitrary. It is what god *happens* to be.

The moral imperative is not objective, as you say. Someone could not have the same moral conscience as most of humanity has. I don't find that a problem as the vast majority do and as I say, the ones who don't, we lock up for public safety.

But even people with a normal moral conscience can choose to go against it and say they don't care. So what? How is that fatal to a non-theist morality? Someone could also say they don't care what god says. According to Christianity, Lucifer said "I don't care about your standards. I don't even care about hell. I'm going to do what I want." Does that make theistic morality untenable? I mean, what moral imperative can you use to get Satan to act morally?

We are in the same boat.

You mentioned an objective morality that is enforceable. You mean with hell fire? I think adding heavenly reward or hellish punishment to any moral question is worthless because if a moral action is done for those reasons, it ceases to be truly moral.

We should help others because humans place axiomatic value on compassion. We should be fair to others because humans place axiomatic value on fairness. To try and nail down an objective, logical standard that must be followed with all reason is a mistake! Morality is not math. It stems from human emotion and that's what gives it that moral "oomph!" that makes moral good so admirable and moral bad so disgusting. Those are human emotions. Anything tied in with human emotions cannot have a cold, hard, rational imperative to guide it.

By the way, as you say, your worldview places worshiping god as a moral good. It is consistent within your worldview. In my worldview, it would actually be immoral to worship a god I didn't believe in! This isn't a problem unless either of us switched worldviews and then continued the same previous moral practice!

I don't think either of our worldviews violate the axioms of our moral conscience. So, there's no problem with us coming to different moral viewpoints on that subject. Mostly, we'll find moral agreement.

You are concerned about people coming to different moral conclusions based on different reasons and no objective standard to decide which is ultimately morally correct. You are right! Welcome to the world! Thankfully we all agree on some moral issues (it is wrong to torture babies for fun). But others, there are legitimate disagreements that have raged since the beginning of civilization.

Moral philosophers over the centuries have formulated many different ethical systems in search of something that'll solve each question consistently. No one has quite convinced every human yet that one is ultimately the best. So why believe there is? There might be, but since we can't even figure it out after trying for so long what use is it?

Even Christians--Bible believing Christians--have disagreements about moral issues such as the death penalty. The objective standard you seek doesn't seem to be quite obvious to us. But as I said, if there was an objective standard, then morality ceases to be moral.

Brandon Muller said...

One more note for you Karla, I want to apologize. Sometimes on the internet (and sometimes in real life) I am a snarky jerk.

I seem to have a real problem playing nice when I debate certain topics. And here we are discussing morality of all things! I'm ridiculous!

Anyway, I have been not nice to you in many of my comments and I apologize for that. You don't deserve anything but respect (until you do something to take that away which you have not).

I'm sorry for taking any insulting tones in my responses to you.

Brandon

Karla said...

Brandon wrote: “I don't want to place value on moral good. That's backwards. Moral good is good because it has value. The value we place on it. Whatever humans value--that's moral good. And I mean that in the sense of the moral conscience--not hedonism.”


You are assuming God does not exist and that humans are the measure of all things. That we determine what is good by what we place value upon. If we value fairness than anything that is fair is what is good. If we value human life than anything that preserves it is good.

No human is perfect. How then can humans be the ones to assign value? How can we know that human life is more valuable than ant life? Some humans think human life and animal life and insect life are equal. So by their value system, I’m doing something wrong by eating a hamburger.

I really appreciate these discussions because through them I have learned that answers I used to give weren’t quiet right so I have refined them and still feel my answers need refining still. I used to say there was this “moral law” as if every right and wrong action were already on some invisible list. And because this law existed there is a moral law giver. But this was erroneous, albeit a classical apologist’s answer. The thing is that if there is a moral law separate from God then God is subject to it and that isn’t possible.

In reality the reason there is good is because “good” is a part of God’s nature. The things that aren’t like Him are not “good” or “evil.” Evil is the absence of Him. There is no evil in Him. There is evil where things are separated from Him—relationally not spatially.

The reason morality isn’t a “moral law” is because holiness, righteousness, goodness flows from relationship with God. The more we become like the standard of goodness the less we do things that are not good. We can’t become like a law, we aren’t made to be ones who contemplate and calculate out the good action. We are made to be ones that love like God loves and do live a life of love. When we love God and we love people we do what is right by them. We sacrifice our good for theirs out of love. The greatest love is sacrificial.

Now I know you will bring up how can we know God is good. We know we are not. We know left to our own devices, man has evil in his nature. We can look at the world and see that. Even if there is no God we can see that. So where does good come from? The Christian worldview provides the best explanation. Can God’s goodness be proven to you. I’m not sure if it can. Can it be shown as plausible and then experienced in reality. I believe so. I must say I am not as adept a philosopher as Quixote and I am glad he has joined this conversation. I’ve learned what I know through self-study, reading many many books. I also learn from conversations like these. When I come up against something new I study the topic at length. And I enjoy learning about all sides of the matter especially from actual people with the particular worldview that is different from my own. I appreciate your willingness to talk about it and your patience.

I was not offended by any thing you have said. But I thank you for your gracious apology just the same. I like to keep things respectful. On my blogspot people know that if a conversation digresses into an argument where there is a great deal of emotion and little real discussion, I will back out for I feel it better to preserve the respect for the person I am speaking to then to persist in such a dialog. So if as long as things stay cordial and conversational, I will continue to participate in the discussion.

Quixote said...

"So, that makes goodness arbitrary. It is what god *happens* to be."

I don't think so. As you say, we recognize goodness in our daily lives and there is no real question about goodness in the main. When we ground these goods in God, we are simply acknowldeging that which is in accordance with our experience.

This grounding is in God's nature itself, and would hold for all possible worlds. If you want to enter into some kind of matrixy objection, as in the joker God, I don't see what that buys you, as that form of skepticism undercuts all arguments, including the very one you set forth with the joker God.

"How is that fatal to a non-theist morality?"

It's not, and I didn't intend to give you that impression. Ultimately, if there's no God, morality is not objective and we will have to get by without it. Certainly, there are good non-objective moralities out there, but they all suffer from their non-objectivism. They're simply non-binding in any real sense. So, for those who disagree with you, you have no real measure from which to declare them wrong.

Perhaps, you misunderstood about my enforceability claim. Obviously, enforceability does not translate into obedience. It does, however, result in accountability and meaning. Granted, there's a limited accountability with penal institutions and natural/logical consequences here on earth, but these are severely restricted in their effectiveness, as is plainly seen in our observation. There's no meaning, though, without a reckoning. If I die and am gone forever, if all of human existence disappears forever, what possible meaning is there to reality? I argue that a reckoning is mandatory for morailty to have any real meaning.

Nevertheless, You're right to say that the threat of retribution does not make an action moral. Any action performed on that basis would be judged impure, I'm sure. this seems to be something we can all agree on.

"You are concerned about people coming to different moral conclusions based on different reasons and no objective standard to decide which is ultimately morally correct."

It doesn't bother your reason that mutually exclusive propositions could be true, or that something you believed heinous could aslo be a good when referenced from another's worldview?

Brandon Muller said...

Karla, you said, "In reality the reason there is good is because “good” is a part of God’s nature. The things that aren’t like Him are not “good” or “evil.” Evil is the absence of Him. There is no evil in Him. There is evil where things are separated from Him—relationally not spatially."

And this is why we aren't moving anywhere in our discussion. Unless you can prove, 100% without a doubt, that is is impossible, IMPOSSIBLE for Practical Joker god to exist, then you cannot assert with 100% certainty that god is good. You can believe it, you can think it's the most logical option, but YOU CANNOT PROVE IT.

Case closed.

Your position *depends* upon it being impossible for god to be a practical joker god.

Unless your remaining posts offer proof that such a god is IMPOSSIBLE then our discussion is pretty much over.

Brandon Muller said...

Quixote,

I am not saying that Practical Joker god exists. I could not prove such a god, as you point out. But, what's the flip side? That's right--you can't disprove such a possibility. No one can.

So, as unlikely or as silly such a god would seem, we cannot rule it out. What does this mean for our lives? Nothing--if such a god did exist, we are totally at its mercy (which it wouldn't have) and there's nothing we can do. We'd be forced to find our own meaning in life.

The only reason I constantly bring up Practical Joker god is that it's mere possibility RULES OUT--that's right--completely eliminates the idea that morality, based in god's nature is objectively good. Because IF there is a practical joker god, then it's possible for a god to have a non-good nature.

Case closed.

If it's possible that god's nature could be not good, then what could be the deciding factor for how god's nature could be? There is none. God's nature is arbitrary because he didn't choose it. Nobody chose it. To say it HAS to be good is to be able to prove that Practical Joker god is impossible.

Neither you nor Karla have logically proved the impossibility of such a god.

You say, "Certainly, there are good non-objective moralities out there, but they all suffer from their non-objectivism. They're simply non-binding in any real sense. So, for those who disagree with you, you have no real measure from which to declare them wrong."

Actually, there is a measure--the emotional axioms of fairness and love. If someone disagrees with those, then yes, we are out of luck when it comes to making them feel guilty.

But, you are in the same boat. One could disagree with the fundamental idea that we should care what god thinks or who god is. Why should one care about what god wants? Why should one care about god's nature? Someone could say, in response to your objective (for sake of argument), accountable, meaningful God-based morality: "Who cares? I want to do what I want to do".

So, how do you bind someone like that? You can say, "Regardless of whether you care, doing harm *is* always wrong". But what does that get you? I can say the same thing: "Regardless of whether you agree or not, humans think that doing harm *is* always wrong."

Your god-based morality is no more "binding" than a non-god based morality. If someone can disagree with the fundamental axioms of a non-god based morality, they can do the same with a god-based one.

You say, "It doesn't bother your reason that mutually exclusive propositions could be true, or that something you believed heinous could aslo be a good when referenced from another's worldview?"

Well, I wouldn't characterize them as "true" in the same way that you do. But, no, it doesn't bother me because it rarely happens. Micheal Shermer put it best, "Moral principles are provisonally true--that is, they apply to most people in most circumstances most of the time."

Karla said...

Brandon, why do I have to give you 100% proof that God is not a "practical joker" when you are the one positing that he may be? Most atheists will argue that the theist as the burden of proof because they are positing something whereas the atheist is positing nothing. (albeit atheists cannot prove there is no god and it is easier to prove a positive than a negative). Notwithstanding you are making a positive claim about God's nature and yet you are asking me to prove your positive isn't possible. I'm not sure this is proper reasoning.

I am positing a good God and I am giving evidence for that. I have demonstrated how we need a perfect standard of good by which to measure non-good. Or else there is not measuring rod and all is relative. If our standard is relative ie a practical joker god then all is relative just the same.

However you do not seem to be advocating relativity. I'm not sure you can have it both ways. If evidence points to a standard why would you think that standard to be in constant flux? That would be no standard at all. Yet God has demonstrated His goodness and His love and mercy through Jesus. This is the evidence of a good God. All you have to do is look at the life of Christ. Christ is the exact representation of the Father. He demonstrated the Father's love for us by paying our debt to unrighteousness for us and bridging the gap so we can be eternally in relationship with the Father who is the bringer of the abundance of life.

Quixote said...

"I am not saying that Practical Joker god exists. I could not prove such a god, as you point out. But, what's the flip side? That's right--you can't disprove such a possibility. No one can."

I think I agreed that I can't disprove a joker god deductively by stating that if you wished to entertain a matrixy sort of argument you had my blessing. For all of our philosophy, we cannot disprove any types of solipsism deductively or with 100% certainty.

But your reliance on such arguments creates an extremely weak philosophic position to maintain, which is why nontheists (and theists) in the main tend to avoid reliance on these type of arguments.

Moreover, I can demonstrate that the denial of a joker god is extremely more probable than its existence. For to maintain the joker god hypothesis, you are required to deny your sense of what is good and what is evil, in other words, your most intimate observations that are confirmed everyday by your actions, and universally by the human race at large.

As an inference to the best explanation, then, the joker god hypothesis is far less probable than its denial, and as such it is irrational to utlize it as a repudiation of goodness grounded in God's nature.

"The only reason I constantly bring up Practical Joker god is that it's mere possibility RULES OUT--that's right--completely eliminates the idea that morality, based in god's nature is objectively good."

You've confused deduction with induction here. As you say, I can't prove moral grounding in God's nature with 100% deductive surety. But, again, I can't prove anything with 100% deductive certainty, so the claim that the possibility of a joker god eliminating any idea is a meaningless statement. All it does is eliminate my proving anything with 100% certainty, including all propositions, not just moral grounding in God. Since the joker god rules out deductive proof of every single proposition conceivable--including, I might add, the concept of a joker god itself--it is useless as a hypothesis. Total skepticism is self-refuting.

We remain then with the inference to the best explanation, which based on our observations, is the grounding of goodness in God's nature.

"If it's possible that god's nature could be not good, then what could be the deciding factor for how god's nature could be? There is none."

Are you denying that you know what good is? Are you denying that you have felt it or observed it, and can differentiate it from non-good?

"Actually, there is a measure--the emotional axioms of fairness and love."

"Emotional axioms" appears to be a phrase that is indistinguishable from "moral absolutes."

"If someone can disagree with the fundamental axioms of a non-god based morality, they can do the same with a god-based one."

Well sure, for a time. The difference is that one is enforceable, one is not. One can only be disagreed with for a time, the other is an eternity of relativism.

"But, no, it doesn't bother me because it rarely happens."

I doubt this statement. Is there anything you care for deeply?

Bryan said...

Hello, Quixote! I have never actually argued the atheist position in a philosophical setting before; unfortunately, most theists do not seem to be as well-mannered or capable as you are when engaged in a debate. I did study philosophy for a little while, but I focused primarily on political philosophy. As this is not a discussion of Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau, I am a bit out of my element. Please take this into account ;-).

I also apologize for arriving so late in the game to comment on this blog post. I realize that this is a debate that has been going on since February on this site and, what, 3000 years on the earth as a whole. However, I couldn't resist the opportunity to talk to you. If you are no longer responding to comments on this post, I understand :-).

Now, just to get this started, what god exactly are you being convinced does not exist here? You say that it's a weak form of theism, but then posit that he is the basis for morality (meaning that he is the standard for all that is good), he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (he created the universe and metes out justice), eternal, rational, just, loving... it sounds like the God of Christianity. It's fine if that's what we're talking about, I just wanted to clarify. Ah, the burden of a background in the humanities: the eternal search for clarity ;-).

Also, I don't know that I'm really arguing with you... since this is a list of what it would take for you to deconvert, I think I'm more discussing with you why I do not find your arguments particularly persuasive, if that's ok.

Now then, on to your list:
1) You state that matter, atoms, the laws of physics, etc, do not exhibit personality, emotions or intelligence; you then state that "Personality appears to permeate the universe." Since the majority of the universe is non-living and made entirely of large collections of atoms, you appear to be saying that matter does produce personality when acting under physical laws. Thus it seems that atheism is at least on equal footing with theism on this one, under your own standard. And that kind of makes sense... after all, atoms appear to act in an orderly, predictable fashion. Kind of like me ;-). And I think that's all we can expect from them, especially under a naturalistic view. Arguing that atoms should write sonnets or fall in love if atheism is correct seems like a bit of a stretch (especially since I do neither ;-) ). If this is not enough, how would this ever be shown?

2. What do you mean by a "purpose" or "meaning" in life? This seems terribly vague. How do people live as though there is a purpose or meaning (I am asking for examples)? I understand that under Christianity (I was raised a fundamental Baptist), the purpose of mankind, aka the meaning of life, is to glorify God. But most Christians that I know don't live like that, and I can't imagine that any atheists do. I don't think I live as though there is a purpose or meaning to my life, and I'm fine with that. What exactly is this purpose that I'm living for? Where is my meaning? I have no children or significant other. I am studying law, and I am doing it for selfish reasons, purely because I am hoping to provide a more comfortable living for myself. I have never felt compelled to look for a meaning to life, even when I was a theist. What exactly am I doing with my life that is more consistent with the existence of a god than with abiogenesis/evolution/eternally existent matter? How do you justify the massive generalization? Or, another way, how do people in the Sudan live as though their life has a purpose or a meaning? Please clarify this section as a whole for me.

3) I'm not sure that I understand what you mean by "the existence of objective morality." Morality seems to me to have been anything but objective over the course of human history. If objective morality exists, people have a really hard time spotting it and seem to be heavily influenced by their time and culture. I'm pretty sure we still haven't spotted it yet. Granted, we all think we're spot on, but given that there doesn't seem to be any reliable way to arrive at an understanding of what is actually objectively morally right or wrong, it seems like this is more consistent with atheism than theism. Even if there IS objective morality, you'd think God would be nice enough to tell us what it is in no uncertain terms instead of letting us wander around for centuries in slavery, racism, bigotry, human rights violations, misogyny, etc. Even if you accept the Bible as his revelation, it's clear that reasonable minds differ on its application. This seems, as I said, more consistent with atheism than theism. I guess what I'm saying is, if we can't figure out what objective morality is but think we have, what's the difference between that situation and an illusion?

3a) Problem of Evil: well, as you may have guessed, I'm not a huge proponent of the whole "objective system of morality" argument. Personally, I buy norm-expressivism (itself a form of noncognitivism), which is not without it's problems, of course, but no metaethical system is. Essentially, what I'm saying is that when anyone says "That is evil," they're saying, "Tsk, tsk, universe... now everyone else, feel this, too!" It's based on empathy, an emotion that would have been favored by natural selection.

4) What do you mean by "arise from irrational matter and causes"? Does sex count? I know that it is definitely not rational very often. I'm not designing anything. And, if I'm not careful, intelligence results. The physical process itself could be much more efficient. Seems like a natural process devoid of intelligence to me. Also, a lot of very stupid people have a lot of kids. Just saying. On the other hand, we can see, as you mention in a comment, that intelligence gives rise to things like philosophy, art, engineering, etc, but those are signs of intelligence, not intelligence itself, much like human existence gives rise to artifacts, but those artifacts are not new life forms, just signs of the old ones. Thus we have no example of intelligence giving birth to intelligence, but we do have signs of irrational processes giving rise to intelligent beings. See also natural selection, which, again, is an irrational natural process that results in increases in intelligence; at some point, the line would have to be drawn showing that a non-intelligent being gave birth to a being that qualifies as intelligent (since proving evolution would not impact your worldview, I'm assuming that you are willing to grant evolution for the sake of argument).

5) So long as you aren't including Trojans or Wolverines in the discussion, I have no issue with that.

6) We can't always get what we want. The fact that we want justice to happen, and it doesn't happen in this life, doesn't mean that god must exist to give it to us in the next. I don't see how the random human desire for justice has any bearing on the truth/falsity of the statement "a god exists." I'm pretty sure there are an awful lot of guys that also want 72 virgins when they die. Doesn't mean Islam is true, it doesn't imply that Allah exists, and it doesn't impact the truth/falsity of Islam's claims.

One last point before I go to bed: as to number 4 of the things that won't convince you, in response to Lynet, you said: "I would agree that it is not scientifically relevant, but that statement doesn't carry the same weight for me as it seems to for you. We won't need to test it when we are dead. We will know (or not)." Yes, that's true. But part of science is prediction, and that's what the atheist is looking for when he argues that you can't test it. Once you're dead, it's a little late. If you're wrong, and you've wasted 6 hours/wk for your entire life on church and Bible study (which is the only life you'll have, if atheism is correct), you can't get that time back. If you're right and I end up in Hell, I would definitely have liked to have known prior to my death. Kind of like if you'd never heard of or seen a gun before; if you measure the impact of a bullet that is fired from a gun, you can figure out whether or not it would kill someone who got shot with it. I would like to know prior to someone aiming it at me whether or not I'm going to die once this strange new weapon is fired, wouldn't you? Thus the problem with theism is that it makes a large number of large claims (invisible man in the sky who watches all you do, cares deeply how you behave and what you believe, and will reward or punish you based on that). We will be punished for not believing these claims, yet none of them comes with any evidence outside of the fact that humans have emotions, lots of other people believe it, and we aren't sure but logic seems to indicate that matter is probably not eternal. Thanks for offering, but I think I'll pass on the Kool-Aid.

Anyway, I've taken up enough of your time, so I'll stop here. I would like to say that I greatly enjoyed reading your post, as I found it well-written and well-reasoned. I hope you had a merry Christmas and have a happy new year.

Quixote said...

Hey Bryan,

Great post & thanks for the kind words. You're certainly welcome at any time. You're right; I don't check this thing as often as I should, but keep checking back because I should have a regular blog going soon. The link will be posted here, and I'd love to have you stop by regularly.

I'd also like to respond to your post with the detail that it deserves, so I will say a couple of things now, and get to the meat of your post later this evening. BTW, feel free to invoke Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau anytime you think it appropriate!

"You say that it's a weak form of theism, but then posit that he is the basis for morality"

Yeah, I may be guilty of bleeding across lines here and there as you point out; however, in general the criteria were aimed at weak theism. It seems to me that if the Christian God were not true, one could exist that accounts for morality, etc. I am a Christian, and will be happy to discuss it from that perspective as well, but then the criteria would need to be altered and directed specifically at Christian theism, ie the resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, the other attributes of God, etc.

"I think I'm more discussing with you why I do not find your arguments particularly persuasive, if that's ok."

That's the idea. Your attitude is among the very best that I have encountered online, and in person for that matter. Again, you're welcome at anytime regardless of your personal stance in these matters. And no matter what else we argue about, let me restate upfront that I am fully aware and agree that atheists can have moral systems, lead moral lives, have meaning and purpose in their lives, and all the other things that accompany those concepts. From my very limited experience with you, you appear to demonstrate those qualities, even if you are studying to be a lawyer :)

Quixote said...

“Since the majority of the universe is non-living and made entirely of large collections of atoms, you appear to be saying that matter does produce personality when acting under physical laws. Thus it seems that atheism is at least on equal footing with theism on this one,”

You have correctly identified the claim that would need to be demonstrated conclusively to encourage my deconversion to atheism. It seems to me, though, that the only evidence we have of matter producing personality is our own personalities, emotions, consciousness, and intelligence, and perhaps those of some higher animal forms. What we do not observe is matter, atoms, the laws of physics, and the space time continuum producing these effects apart from our actions.

This seems to present a prima facie case for theism over atheism. I’m well aware of the logical difficulties involved with analogizing and moving from specifics to general, universal claims. Nevertheless, in my observation, intelligence spawns intelligence, stories come from story tellers, laws come from lawgivers, personality comes from the personal, and the chaotic and irrational remain chaotic and irrational without structure imposed by outside rational forces, waves in the sand notwithstanding. I’ve never seen matter exhibit these qualities solely by virtue of its own existence, or through its own power.

Yes, this is an argument from my limited knowledge and ignorance, but that’s, after all, what the criteria are there for. If it is demonstrated that matter accomplishes personality naturally, I would need to consider deconversion.

I am also aware that naturalism teaches this very thing: personality arose from non-rational sources. However, this claim, as far as I know, is a metaphysical claim, normally derived from evolutionary theory. It is not scientifically binding, thus non-compelling intellectually. I remain skeptical until it is demonstrated scientifically. In fact, I prefer the thrust of my intuition until this is demonstrated; I’m just not persuaded that rationality arises from irrationality, unless I presuppose a naturalistic paradigm.

“Arguing that atoms should write sonnets or fall in love if atheism is correct seems like a bit of a stretch”

And yet, ultimately, through emergent properties, time, chance, and natural selection, this is precisely the atheistic claim.

I appreciate your honest answer here. If you posit that life has no ultimate meaning or purpose, you are living consistently with your worldview (please keep in mind my disclaimer above regarding meaning, morality, etc.) Nonetheless, I, and by far the great majority of people—at least the ones that I know, have read writings from, have observed living, or have seen on TV—act as though there is ultimate meaning and purpose. It doesn’t follow necessarily that there is, but it registers with me as prima facie evidence for theism, given that one doesn’t accept the “just so” explanations of naturalistic evolution.

If we reject ultimate meaning in life, it seems to me we ultimately have to deny our emotions as having any real connection with truth. What does it mean to grieve over an incident or situation that is meaningless? What does it mean to express moral outrage over evils, if they are meaningless? If our meaning and purpose are merely human, a social or personal convention projected onto the universe, why do we consistently act as if it were tied to a tangible, objective meaning? I am perfectly willing to consider that ultimately life is meaningless; that’s what the criteria seeks, actually.

“Even if there IS objective morality, you'd think God would be nice enough to tell us what it is in no uncertain terms instead of letting us wander around for centuries in slavery, racism, bigotry, human rights violations, misogyny, etc.”

Would you consider your list above wrong for all peoples at all times, or just wrong for you?

"That is evil," they're saying, "Tsk, tsk, universe... now everyone else, feel this, too!"

I get the feeling that you are versed with the argumentation already, but I’ll present the standard theist response anyway: Rape then is not evil?

“Does sex count?”

Sure, anything counts. If you could point to matter combining through sex, or any other means, to produce intelligence, I’d go for it. A human child is the product of two beings with, relatively speaking of course as you mention, intelligence. I’m not buying the complete irrationality of the act either. First, your stated doctrine of natural selection indicates that by and large mates are selected based upon factors that deliver a better survival advantage to the offspring. Furthermore, I’ll wager that you choose your mates selectively, except perhaps after a few too many :) To conclude from the naturalness of the process that no intelligence is involved overall is to simply ignore all factors except for the natural process. It’s a clever and novel thought, though.

“Thus we have no example of intelligence giving birth to intelligence,”

AI? Deep Blue capable of defeating grand masters at chess? I accept the rest of your criticism, however. I should qualify “intelligence” if I present this argument elsewhere.

“See also natural selection, which, again, is an irrational natural process that results in increases in intelligence; at some point, the line would have to be drawn showing that a non-intelligent being gave birth to a being that qualifies as intelligent (since proving evolution would not impact your worldview, I'm assuming that you are willing to grant evolution for the sake of argument).”

Your assumption about utilizing evolution is correct, but there’s a problem with your argument. You have begged the question, assuming from the outset a naturalistic view of evolution and natural selection, which is what you are trying to demonstrate.

5) So long as you aren't including Trojans or Wolverines in the discussion, I have no issue with that.

I don’t recall ever including Wolverines in a discussion regarding top football teams, and I’d be happy to discuss the latest Trojan/UT game :)

"We can't always get what we want. The fact that we want justice to happen, and it doesn't happen in this life, doesn't mean that god must exist to give it to us in the next. I don't see how the random human desire for justice has any bearing on the truth/falsity of the statement "a god exists." I'm pretty sure there are an awful lot of guys that also want 72 virgins when they die. Doesn't mean Islam is true, it doesn't imply that Allah exists, and it doesn't impact the truth/falsity of Islam's claims.”

I agree with everything you’ve said here. However, I would not characterize justice as a random human desire, and if it does not correlate with reality, it’s an extremely powerful, universal human delusion. If it is not an illusion, it seems to require God in any comprehensive, non-relative sense.

“But part of science is prediction, and that's what the atheist is looking for when he argues that you can't test it.”

No argument here. I just wanted to point out that of the two systems, theism is the only one that actually can be verified empirically. Given the atheists’ insistence on empiricism, I find this highly ironic.

“If you're wrong, and you've wasted 6 hours/wk for your entire life on church and Bible study”
I get what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t use the word wasted. The Christian life is highly rewarding—even if untrue—and those who practice it faithfully generally reap the good that they sow in this life.

“We will be punished for not believing these claims”

The above is not the Christian claim. The Christian claim is that people are punished for sin. Faith in the claims results in the atonement of Christ being transferred to your account in place of your sin. Unbelief, though a sin itself, is a refusal to accept the work of the cross, and is not the reason why people are punished.

“yet none of them comes with any evidence outside of the fact that humans have emotions, lots of other people believe it, and we aren't sure but logic seems to indicate that matter is probably not eternal.”

I disagree. I think it would be better for you to say that “none of them come with any evidence that I accept.” If, for example, you believe that logic indicates that matter is probably not eternal (as you seem to indicate), the following argument would provide extremely weighty, deductive evidence on behalf of God’s existence:

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

The universe began to exist.

Therefore, the universe has a cause.

“Anyway, I've taken up enough of your time, so I'll stop here. I would like to say that I greatly enjoyed reading your post, as I found it well-written and well-reasoned. I hope you had a merry Christmas and have a happy new year.”

Likewise, Bryan. Come by and sample the Kool-Aid anytime :)

wintermute said...

Interesting post; certainly there's lots I can respond to. For the sake of brevity, I'll limit this to quantum physics and cosmology, but I'd like to come back later and talk about evolutionary biology, too.

You have evidence that things exist or are the way they are for no reason at all? Please share.

Electrons in an atom change ground state for no reason at all. They just... sometimes do.

Particle-antiparticle pairs come into existence from nothingness for no reason. This has been observed in Hawking radiation around black holes and in the Casimir effect.

In both examples, our understanding of quantum mechanics says that these events are entirely random and without cause. There is no precursor event that leads to this happening. It's possible that everything we know on the subject is wrong and there's really a cause, but that's on a par with saying that maybe everything we know about mammalian reproduction is wrong, and the stork really does deliver babies.

Things that would not cinvince me:

1. That something could come from nothing. Nothing really means nothing—no singularities, no time/space continuums, nothing. As Martin Luther said, “Nothing does not mean a little something." If there ever were nothing, there would still be nothing. If there ever were nothing, there would not be mathematical equations attempting to persuade us that something could come from nothing.


So, you reject the fact that something has been repeatedly observed to come from nothing, on the grounds that that's not what it looks like to your macro-scale experience? Particle-antiparticle pairs literally come from nothing.

Besides, it's not unreasonable to think of the universe as being nothing. Matter is just condensed energy, and the total of all the positive energy (matter, light, magnetism) in the universe is exactly equal to the total of all the negative energy (gravity). So it's possible that the universe is, rather than being a "something" that had to come from a "something", a "nothing" that could easily come from a "nothing". But you'll reject that for the same reason you reject all the evidence that something comes from nothing all the time: It's weird and outside of our normal day-to-day understanding of how the world works. It's not a bad reason to reject stuff, but it can lead to very wrong conclusions when the universe doesn't always "make sense".

"Why are you so sure that 'Before the Big Bang' is a meaningful proposition?"

Because I begin my reasoning with the presupposition that more exists than this universe.


I begin my reasoning by assuming that more exists than this planet, but that doesn't mean that the concept of "north of the North Pole" is meaningful.

Let us agree, for the sake of argument, that there is an extra-universal realm. There's no reason why it should have the same laws and properties as this universe, is there? Would you predict that photons exist in that realm, or that they'd move at the same speed as they do here? Time (and therefore causality) is no less a property of this universe than light is, or matter. It's possible that this extra-universal realm has some form of time, but there's no reason to assume it works in the same way as time does here; perhaps what we perceive as the Big Bang is, to that realm, the destruction of the universe. Perhaps, from that perspective, it's not a boundary in time at all, but one in space. It's not impossible, but you reject it without consideration; why?

OK, let us now accept that you're right in all particulars; that something cannot be created from nothing, that there was a "before the Big Bang" and that the Big Bang requires a cause:

What did God make the universe out of? I mean, he can't just have summoned it up from nothingness, can he? So there must have been some pre-existing "something" from which he could create it, right? And if there was a pre-existing "something", why do we need to invoke a deity to do the creating? Why can't there have been a naturalistic cause that made that "something" turn into the "something" we see today?

--

That's about enough for one post, I'm sure you'll agree. I'm always glad to get into a civil and intelligent conversation on this kind of topic, and hopefully I'll have a chance to continue this. Thanks for posting, and I hope 2009 is a good year for you.

Quixote said...

"I'll limit this to quantum physics and cosmology, but I'd like to come back later and talk about evolutionary biology, too."

You're welcome anytime, Wintermute. I like your comments. Though I've read a decent amount of material on quantum physics, I'll freely admit I'm not scientifically qualified to comment on QP, or physics in general. I'm qualified philosophically, though, and will attempt to limit my comments to that discipline when addressing QP.

With that said, I have an affinity for continental philosophy, so much of the sting you may assume to gain with QP may be lost on me. I am ready to acknowledge that there are a myriad of factors between our perception and the thing in itself that may serve to limit our understanding. I proceed analytically on blogs because that is the primary methodology accepted and understood, but I'm not wedded to it. Either way or both is fine with me. On your trackback, I noticed a reference to deconstruction, so I'm assuming that this may be present in your mind as you post. BTW--"Right Behind," nicely done :)

"Electrons in an atom change ground state for no reason at all. They just... sometimes do.

Particle-antiparticle pairs come into existence from nothingness for no reason."

True, this appears to be our current observation; however, to make the logical leap from our observation to "no reason at all" and "come into existence from nothingness for no reason" appears to be an unsupportable claim, not to mention in conflict with what appear to be self-evident metaphysical concepts.

First, the relative smallness of the events and particles under consideration present challenges to our observational technology. It's simply not the same thing as observing events and matter on the macro level, as you note. This is mitigated somewhat by the mathematics I'm sure, but then, mathematics are not observation, and I think a bit of caution against hasty conclusions is warranted. I recognize the great theoretical and pragmatic success of QP, but even still it is only a century old.

Secondly, to say that things arise out of nothing is not actually based on observation, it is an inference from an observation. This distinction is critical. It is a philosophic claim inferred from (problematic) observable events.

Thirdly, I'm not convinced that the particle pairs arise out of nothing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't they springing from energy, strings, the space-time continuum, or some other field of some sort? When I invoke the word nothing, I use it formally to designate nothing.

Lastly, I'm surprised to hear this argument from, I presume, an atheist. Certainly with your stated fondness for evolutionary biology, you have engaged theists who claim that since you do not currently have the knowledge to explain a portion of a theory or observation, the observation or theory must be incorrect, or even that God must exist to explain it. I'm confident you agree with me here, and to see you encroach on this type of argument is puzzling. After all, I could just as easily posit that this observation is evidence of God's creative power!

Maybe I'm misreading you, though. Nonetheless, I don't think so because an attempt to meliorate the appearance follows in your next statement:

"It's possible that everything we know on the subject is wrong and there's really a cause, but that's on a par with saying that maybe everything we know about mammalian reproduction is wrong, and the stork really does deliver babies."

I think this is a false dichotomy, attached to some ad populum. It's possible that everything we understand regarding the subject is true, yet we may not understand everything about the subject yet. Given the characteristics of QM, our observational limitations, etc., this seems not just plausible, but extremely probable.

"So, you reject the fact that something has been repeatedly observed to come from nothing, on the grounds that that's not what it looks like to your macro-scale experience?"

No, I reject it on the grounds given above. Moreover, I still dispute that scientists really have "nothing" in mind when they make this claim. This is a perfect example of what I am suggesting:

"Besides, it's not unreasonable to think of the universe as being nothing. Matter is just condensed energy, and the total of all the positive energy (matter, light, magnetism) in the universe is exactly equal to the total of all the negative energy (gravity). So it's possible that the universe is, rather than being a "something" that had to come from a "something", a "nothing" that could easily come from a "nothing"."

Nothing does not mean a little something, to quote Martin Luther. It is what sleeping rocks dream of, to quote Jonathan Edwards. As long as you are maintaining energy, or gravity fields, or any other "something", it's not "nothing." (forgive my double negative)

"But you'll reject that for the same reason you reject all the evidence that something comes from nothing all the time:"

This statement should be demonstrably false by now, but I'd like you to remember that my original post never claimed that it was logically impossible for matter to be eternal itself. If this is what you have in mind, then we are not arguing with regard to this post.

"It's not impossible, but you reject it without consideration; why?"

Actually, I don't. In the OP, it's assumed as one of the two logical possibilities.

"What did God make the universe out of? I mean, he can't just have summoned it up from nothingness, can he?"

That's precisely the idea behind creation ex nihilo. If God is a cause larger than the universe, and he possesses the power of being, it's entirely reasonable. In fact, it would be the rational position to hold given his existence.

"And if there was a pre-existing "something", why do we need to invoke a deity to do the creating? Why can't there have been a naturalistic cause that made that "something" turn into the "something" we see today?"

Again, I agree with you. Take a look at the OP. This should be clearly stated as logically possible. Please let me know if I wasn't clear in the OP. Given your assumptions here, you're spot on.

"I'm always glad to get into a civil and intelligent conversation on this kind of topic, and hopefully I'll have a chance to continue this. Thanks for posting, and I hope 2009 is a good year for you."

Likewise, my friend. I look forward to your comments on evolutionary biology, if any. I should have a regular blog up soon, and will leave the link posted here. If your last post is any indication of your regular activity, you'll always be welcome. In hopes that 2009 is a great year for you....

Brandon Muller said...

Quixote:
"For to maintain the joker god hypothesis, you are required to deny your sense of what is good and what is evil, in other words, your most intimate observations that are confirmed everyday by your actions, and universally by the human race at large."


That's only if I posit that our sense of morality comes from god, which I do not.

"As an inference to the best explanation, then, the joker god hypothesis is far less probable than its denial, and as such it is irrational to utilize it as a repudiation of goodness grounded in God's nature."

Again, that's true only if our sense of morality must come from god. PJG only shows that god's nature does not *have* to be good. I'm not denying that our sense of morality could come from a good god. Absolutely it could. However, since god's nature doesn't *have* to be good, then there's nothing ultimately objective about it. That's what I'm arguing. Positing the existence of non-good god natures is not out of bounds or irrational since I'm only arguing that god's nature doesn't *have* to be good. God doesn't choose his nature and we can imagine scenarios where a non-good god nature exists.

"Since the joker god rules out deductive proof of every single proposition conceivable--including, I might add, the concept of a joker god itself--it is useless as a hypothesis. Total skepticism is self-refuting."

If we are arguing about which god concepts are better, I agree with you that a good god beats out a practical joker god on a philosophical and logical level (although an apathetic god might beat out a good god--i.e. problem of evil).

But we aren't arguing over which is the more likely god concept. You are arguing that god's nature HAS to be good because if you agree that god's nature could be something other than good, then you acknowledge that a sense of morality based on whatever god's nature happens to be cannot be objective in any ultimate sense.

Quixote: "'Emotional axioms' appears to be a phrase that is indistinguishable from 'moral absolutes.'"

I don't think so. Moral absolutes are binding whether a person agrees to them or not. Emotional axioms are feelings that humans have. So, they wouldn't be binding to someone who didn't hold them. But, as I say, I think the only ones who don't are psychopaths who we lock away.

I said previously: "If someone can disagree with the fundamental axioms of a non-god based morality, they can do the same with a god-based one."

To which you replied: "Well sure, for a time. The difference is that one is enforceable, one is not. One can only be disagreed with for a time, the other is an eternity of relativism."


What do you mean for a time? Someone could do it for their entire life. Are you talking about hell? Are you a Christian who thinks that hell is punishment for the actual evil deeds done here on earth? If so, then you rob moral acts of their morality by positing a non-moral reason (punishment) to be moral. If you are a Christian who thinks hell is eternal separation from god due to a preexisting sinful nature, then saying "you can disagree with the axioms of a god-based morality only for a time" then hell doesn't apply to questions about our moral choices and I'm left wondering what you mean by "only for a time".

*****
And for Karla,

This post explains why I do not have to prove the existence of a Practical Joker God. I'm not arguing that kind of god exists. I'm only saying it is possible. And the simple possibility rules out the claim that god's nature HAS to be good.

You can argue that god's nature is most likely good. You can argue with inference to the best explanation that god's nature is good (if you can destroy the problem of evil). But you cannot argue that god's nature HAS to be good. And THAT is what would be needed to say that our sense of morality is objective in an ultimate sense.

Karla said...

Brandon, it is you positing a non-good God. Theists do not posit this. If you are arguing such a God is possible you would need to give how it is possible and how there could exist any other standard by which to judge such a God as non-good. Where could such a standard be found, certainly not in the created.

Quixote said...

Brandon,

Let me attempt to cut to the chase. You appear to be arguing that you are not logically compelled to conclude that a good God necessarily exists. If this is your contention, there's no need to argue with me as I agree, nor have I made the claim that all rational, informed agents must by the sheer force of logic conclude that a good God exists.

All I have argued here is that there are valid and sound reasons for my belief in the goodness of God, and that no defeaters exist for that belief.

A couple more quick comments: You said "However, since god's nature doesn't *have* to be good, then there's nothing ultimately objective about it. That's what I'm arguing."

This is a misunderstanding of objectivity. If the Christian God exists, by definition his nature and morality are objective. Obviously, if he doesn't his nature is not objective because he doesn't exist! It would remain to be seen whether morality was or was not objective. Your personal incredulity on the issue really doesn't affect the ontological status of objectivity. IOW, even if we grant that God doesn't *have* to be good, it has no real bearing on whether he is in fact good or not.

Lastly, I'd like to encourage you to distance yourself from total skepticism, whether it be brain in a vat, joker gods, demon gods, matrices, solipsisms, or any other version of total skepticism. They're the softballs of the philosophic world, and since you don't need them to make your case, they actually weaken it.

The primary difficulty with positing total skepticism is that it is self refuting. When you posit the joker god, I have no reason to consider what you are saying logically. If you're right, you're wrong, so to speak.

Secondly, even if we ignore the self refuting nature of total skepticism, the joker god has an epistemological difficutly it cannot overcome: even if you are logically correct that I may be incorrect, it does not follow that there are epistemic grounds for doubting my current belief. Unfortunately, here the burden of proof is on the skeptic, and the claim that one might be mistaken (joker god) does not meet that burden of proof.

If you say we have grounds for doubting our belief, we need to see them from you. So, if you are attracted to skepticism, a much more promising line is continental philosophy, especially in recent deconstructionism.

"If so, then you rob moral acts of their morality by positing a non-moral reason (punishment) to be moral."

I don't consider punishment as non-moral, nor do I posit punishment as the reason to be moral. You're a fairly reasonable guy, so don't ruin it with strawmen.

MS Quixote said...

Any further comments should be posted at http://www.marcschooley.com

Brandon Muller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon Muller said...

Quixote said...

Let me attempt to cut to the chase. You appear to be arguing that you are not logically compelled to conclude that a good God necessarily exists. If this is your contention, there's no need to argue with me as I agree, nor have I made the claim that all rational, informed agents must by the sheer force of logic conclude that a good God exists.


OK, good.

All I have argued here is that there are valid and sound reasons for my belief in the goodness of God, and that no defeaters exist for that belief.

I have no problem with that. You are correct.

I only have a problem with the assertion that morality is ultimately objective if god exists, which is what you do here:

If the Christian God exists, by definition his nature and morality are objective. Obviously, if he doesn't his nature is not objective because he doesn't exist! It would remain to be seen whether morality was or was not objective. Your personal incredulity on the issue really doesn't affect the ontological status of objectivity. IOW, even if we grant that God doesn't *have* to be good, it has no real bearing on whether he is in fact good or not.

If a good god actually exists, then objective morality exists only in that universe. When I'm talking about objective values, I'm talking about values that are objective in all possible universes. That's true metaphysical objectivity. Since a Practical Joker God universe is possible, then objective morality (the kind you believe your God's character entails)is not objective. It doesn't hold for all possible universes or all possible ways for a god to exist.

Lastly, I'd like to encourage you to distance yourself from total skepticism, whether it be brain in a vat, joker gods, demon gods, matrices, solipsisms, or any other version of total skepticism. They're the softballs of the philosophic world, and since you don't need them to make your case, they actually weaken it.

All those examples show is that metaphysical claims cannot be 100% proved. And the claim that objective morals exist if the Christian god exists is an unprovable metaphysical claim because it asserts that alternate god and alternate universes are impossible. Only by eliminating those possibilities can you grant that the existence of your god means that ACTUAL objective morals exist necessarily in all possible universes.

The primary difficulty with positing total skepticism is that it is self refuting. When you posit the joker god, I have no reason to consider what you are saying logically. If you're right, you're wrong, so to speak.

When we are talking about metaphysical claims, total skepticism is used to illustrate that metaphysical claims such as "A good god equals objective morality" are not provable. So you shouldn't pretend like they are.

Secondly, even if we ignore the self refuting nature of total skepticism, the joker god has an epistemological difficutly it cannot overcome: even if you are logically correct that I may be incorrect, it does not follow that there are epistemic grounds for doubting my current belief. Unfortunately, here the burden of proof is on the skeptic, and the claim that one might be mistaken (joker god) does not meet that burden of proof.

As I said, I have no problem with your belief that a good god exists. I only have a problem if you assert the metaphysical claim that therefore morals are objective. At that point, Practical Joker God steps in and reminds you that metaphysical claims such as that are not provable.

If you say we have grounds for doubting our belief, we need to see them from you. So, if you are attracted to skepticism, a much more promising line is continental philosophy, especially in recent deconstructionism.

The only belief I'd want you to doubt is the idea that objective morality exists if a good god exists. That kind of objective morality is not objective since IT COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT. God could have had a different nature/character which could make lying an "objective" good (for example). To say otherwise is to make a metaphysical claim that you cannot back up. I only use total skepticism to illustrate that point.

In real life, I don't entertain total skepticism because I don't make metaphysical claims. I "believe" that there are no gods and I have reasons for my belief, but I don't assert it because I cannot. I can't prove it. You "believe" that there is a god and you have reasons for believing so. That's fine. We don't have to prove our beliefs as long as we don't assert metaphysical; certainty. The claim of an objective morality entails metaphysical certainty (that Practical Joker God cannot exist). So, just avoid claims like that and we're fine!

J said...

Why, why, why does belief in a god, or something supernatural, automatically give life meaning? Why does it give the universe meaning and purpose?

When you say that atheists lack purpose in life, or that we just live under an illusion, you're not saying that your particular religion gives you meaning, or that you have a purpose because your religion tells you what your purpose is. You're equating lack of belief with lack of meaning and purpose. Why?

Karla said...

If you mean “belief” in the intellectual adherence to a propositional statement, I can understand the need for the question. However, what is being proposed by theists is not just personal adherence to a propositional belief in the existence of God, but the reality of His existence.

If God exists and has meaningfully created man with purpose then God’s existence does lend itself to man having intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose. On the other hand, if there is no God, and man is a product of time, chance, energy, and matter evolving through time into the human being then our value and purpose are only that which we give ourselves. There is not a rooted foundation for valuing our lives over any other sentient being or non-sentient being. We value ourselves, because we live and want to be valuable.

There is nothing that would say that we cannot declare ourselves valuable and give ourselves purpose. But there also would be no foundation for our intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose. Therefore, the reality of God’s existence does provide such a framework—a framework that gives intrinsic value to all humans from the most accomplished to the hermit living in the woods or the homeless man on the street. Notwithstanding, we could have only self-proclaimed value and we need to learn to accept the inevitable reality of having no intrinsic meaning and purpose. We may need to ignore the signs of design of our difference to the rest of creation and accept our lot in life.

If our belief in God is merely an illusion then humanity still has only self-proclaimed value and purpose. But if God really does exist and really did create man separate from the beasts, He is the Author of our existence and has endowed us with His special creative purpose and value. This would then be true, no matter who believes it or not. Thus, our worth would not be a matter of what intellectual proposition we adhere to nor what illusion we maintain, but what is really real.

Johannes Brodwall said...

Isn't the value of God's purpose also only declared, either by us or self-declared by God?

How does that leave us in any better situation than if we "declare ourselves valuable and give ourselves purpose"?

Karla said...

God giving us value, is the personal eternal absolute good Being creating us with value, purpose, and meaning. Value, meaning and purpose, is thus intrinsic in our nature, not just proclaimed. The proclamation of it, is simply informing us of the reality of it.

Johannes Brodwall said...

So: We get intrinsic meaning from God, this meaning is intrinsic because God is an eternal absolute good?

Isn't God's eternal goodness merely a proclamation by him or by us? Not to push the analogy too far, but North Koreans are told that their beloved dictator possesses eternal goodness. Does this give their lives intrinsic meaning?

The assertion that God is eternal absolute good is merely that, an assertion. (And I assume we're not talking old-Testament-God here, as that would make the assertion rather dubious to boot)

If "we define God" to be eternal absolute good, how is that different from defining, say human happiness, to be eternal absolute good?

Karla said...

I am not talking about what we define, but what really is. Definitions mean nothing if they are not true. The proclamation, belief, adherence to a truth claim doesn't make it true. I am discussing the reality of it, not the adherence to a belief.

Johannes Brodwall said...

You're either just playing with words, or claiming knowledge that you cannot possibly have.

"The reality is that human happiness is an eternal absolute good." Convinced?

Karla said...

I'm sorry I am not trying to play with words. I am trying to say that theists are positing not that a belief in God creates value and meaning, but the reality of God's existence gives meaning and value to human life.

I am not saying I have proved this is reality. I am only arguing that this is what theists mean when we say that value and purpose follow from God's existence. We are not arguing that belief in God gives us this meaning, but that this meaning is rooted in the reality of His existence. The one who doesn't believe thus is still valuable and meaningful and purposeful because of this reality if it is true.

Johannes Brodwall said...

All right, I think I understand your position. Would this be a fair description: You want the purpose of your life to be an objective one and in examining the possible world views where this would be the case, you've found that God as an external absolute good satisfies the condition for objective purpose?

If that is the case, would positing human happiness as an external absolute good serve the same purpose? Why/why not?

Also, I am not sure why God's will has more authority when it comes to our purpose than the will of an absolute dictator in a totalitarian state. I assume that you would not accept the will of such a dictator alone as legitimate justification. What makes the will of God different? (Keep in mind: The dictator also claims to be a source of external absolute good)

Karla said...

No, I'm sorry, what I want is irrelevant. And human happiness is not an absolute foundation for value and purpose.

Also, what God creates has value because we are created out of the goodness of God. He is good, and what He creates is good and therefore has value. He created us with purpose and meaning. So He is the author of our existence.

The difference to what a dictator claims of being the absolute good, is that he merely claims it, he isn't it.

God doesn't just make an arbitrary claim, He is the good. He embodies the truth, He doesn't just decree truth. He is the absolute of truth.

You seem to be reducing God to the realm of a human in authority and this cannot compare.

Johannes Brodwall said...

I'm afraid I fail to see that your argument is anything beyond "God's existence gives us an objective purpose just because it does."

If existence without God is meaningless, I fail to see why existence *with* God should be meaningful. Does having a (team of) designer(s) give a car objective meaning? Only insofar the (team of) designer(s) has objective meaning. And so we get regress to God and beyond.

Saying "just because" is not an argument.

Quixote said...

http://www.marcschooley.com/blog/?p=39

JediMaster24627 said...

Hi, I have a few comments on some of your arguments Quixote.

First, you seem to ignore some possibilities that should be taken into consideration. (no one else seems to have noticed either, though) Such as the possibility that the 'Supernatural' force or being has no personality and is not intelligent. The main argument you would have against it is your belief that intelligence comes from intelligence etc. which brings me to my next point(s).

Second, your case for Intelligence coming from Intelligence and Personality coming from Personality, suffers from the fatal flaw that no one in academic circles, whether scientific or philosophic, can agree to what those are. You list a number of examples of "Intelligence" that came from Intelligence, that I wouldn't classify as such. Furthermore, we have a tendency to see human attributes in non-humans (even in non-life) that isn't necessarily there, this is called anthropomorphism.

Your arguments that the empirical data seems to support theistic claims over atheistic claims seem to rely on some level of anthropomorphism.

Also, you seem to believe that the world is worse, or at most little better, than in the past. This assumption has been found to be false in the historical record, the primary reason we think otherwise is that we hear about it more due to mass media. There are a number of reliable sources for this, ones that I bookmarked even, but my bookmarks are many and it will take awhile to dig through and find it and I'm in a hurry right now. (I also have other things related to the discussion as well, and I'll post links to those when I find them too!)


I don't take part in this type of discussion much, so I apologize in advance if I use any overused arguments due to my not knowing they were common.

Quixote said...

Great name Jedi,

"Such as the possibility that the 'Supernatural' force or being has no personality and is not intelligent. The main argument you would have against it is your belief that intelligence comes from intelligence etc. which brings me to my next point(s)."

I agree, it's just that it was outside the scope of the exercise. I have better arguments against it, they were just again, outside of scope.

"Second, your case for Intelligence coming from Intelligence and Personality coming from Personality, suffers from the fatal flaw that no one in academic circles, whether scientific or philosophic, can agree to what those are."

This is actually a flaw...simply because no one can agree--which is not granted--does not mean that i, or anyone else,is wrong.

"This assumption has been found to be false in the historical record, the primary reason we think otherwise is that we hear about it more due to mass media."

I'm aware of this argument, and have found it uncompelling. Nevertheless, how does it tie in with this post? I'm curious...

"I don't take part in this type of discussion much, so I apologize in advance if I use any overused arguments due to my not knowing they were common."

No worries...

JediMaster24627 said...

It seems I miscommunicated some of my arguments last time, probably because it was around two-thirty in the morning, I'll try to elaborate. I still can't guarantee that I'll be any clearer though.

My first point was directed at a specific comment in the original post, about how it would be possible to imagine both matter and a supernatural force, but how that would essentially be conceding the argument to you as it admits the supernatural. I was just stating that there were further options than eternal-God/eternal-matter and that it was a false dilemma.

My second point was not about the merit of anyone's argument, but rather the fact that unless they defined certain terms the same as you do they would be unable to convince you.

Also, your things-come-from-like-things argument also ignores that like does not mean same, it can also mean similar. Unless you reject evolution, which you seem not to, then you have to admit there were changes in intelligence, personality, etc. and that makes your definitions of those terms key to the validity of that argument, unless you're the kind of person that believes god guided evolution.

My third point was not directed at the post itself, but at things you said in the comment section, if you want me to elaborate on this too, then I'll do so in my next comment.

Hultis said...

Quixote,

I don't really know where to post this, but I will post it here and hope you will read it. I have read Ebon Musings' text as well as yours and most of the comments and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Never have I seen a theist who so readily opens up the key to his or her beliefs. I have long wanted to have their view on a few ideas, but every time I have approached a theist on the subject they have backed away without even trying the analytical approach you apply.

I'm far from as good a debater as other who have posted here, my native language is not english and the arguments I present are little more than ideas as I often lack knowledge in the specific areas. I still hope you can consider them from your point of view and apply your own knowledge to complete them, giving them a fair chance.

First off: 3, 6 and lots of other text in between deal with moral and justice, and the way I interpreted it, how it can be global without a God designing it. I take an evolutionary standpoint in this question, and seeing that you don't seem to disapprove of evolution you can hopefully consider it.

The most important tasks for any being is to ensure the survival of its own genes and so the survival of their species (according to evolution). Humans are mammals, and as such we are herd animals. Ensuring the survival of others in the herd increases your own chance of survival. It can also increase your status (which increases chance of offspring) and further increase your chances of survival with the "I scratch your back, you scratch mine"-principle employed by many mammals, including humans. I don't have sufficient knowledge to say this as a fact, but I think that empathy is derived from this simple, greedy urge of survival rather than something given by a God. Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm not sure if it would make it more of an illusion, but it's a possible explanation that doesn't involve a God. As such, UU is derived from the most basic animal urge rather than empathy, and what is good doesn't have to be judged but is simply what is good for the own individual, directly or via the group.

UU also further evolves the social code humans as well as animals live after, which is closely related to our moral. I don't know this as a fact, but it seems reasonable that it stems from our urge to survive. An example is when males compete for females. It is only rare that these competitions end in death for the loser (if it would reduce the species' chance of survival). That is part of the social code, which has then evolved further to increase our chance of survival. The bible reflects the code of the time it was written, for example. This is one possible explanation of how our moral and sense of justice have evolved.

The basic ideas summed up are that our "global" (views on this change very much with time as well as place on earth) understanding of what is good, moral and just is based on our simple urge of survival. The evolution of it started a very long time ago, and humans haven't been isolated long enough from each other for anything big to change, but small changed are noticeable, especially in isolated populations. Animals also have the same systems, albeit usually not as complicated as ours.

2 also brings up the question of the meaning of life and how we find meaning in it. Evolution tells us that our meaning in life is to ensure our species' survival, but humans (unlike what we know of animals) have a tendency to want to formulate something a little bit more eloquently. I don't know why that is, possibly because it's not much of an achievement to just survive in many civilizations today, and as such doesn't give us the challenge we need. Psychology has described this in detail, and probably has a bunch of answers. This is more of a question than an argument, but the idea is that there is actually no meaning deeper than survival. Yes, it's a horrible thought, which is one of the reason religion has been so successful.

MS Quixote said...

Hey Hultis,

As you've probably guessed by now, this is a defunct blog and I rarely think to check it. I'd very much enjoy a dialogue with you based on your comment. If you happen to drop by again and see this, feel free to come over to http://www.marcschooley.com/blog.

OgreVI said...

I see that you started this blog only to post this article, and so you might never know that I wrote this, but I hope you'll still get an e-mail notification or something.
I just wanted to say that I appreciate this piece. I am an atheist myself, but I enjoyed reading an honest effort by a theist to make his beliefs falsifiable. I might well take issue with some of the actual propositions offered (however, since the discussion in the comments has been so wide-ranging I think it would be superfluous) but I very much respect the attempt. I wish you had kept writing.

Karla said...

Yes, he still writes. You can find him at. http://marcschooley.com/

Anonymous said...

Terry Pratchett said it best - "Take the Universe and grind it to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of Justice. One molecule of Mercy..."

The good thing about the way our brains have developed is that we are able to impose an order on our part of the it. Even if it is all an illusion, the commonality of the illusion is what makes it "real" enough for our purposes.

MS Quixote said...

Terry Pratchett said it best - "Take the Universe and grind it to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of Justice. One molecule of Mercy..."

As if the theist would posit their existence is grounded in matter? Why would a skeptic consider this a good quote? Did you omit the pertinent context? All it confirms for me is that the naturalist possesses no grounding for justice and mercy, which is just what weve been saying all these years...

MS Quixote said...

Hey Ogre,

I did see it, at length...and back at you. Thanks. we could use more with your attitude on both sides.

Fatboy said...

I saw the post you linked to on your other blog, but it's about the Euthypro Dilemma, not the existence of gods. Besides, people continue to read this post, so it seems appropriate to put the response here. I also started typing this before I finished reading all the comments, but was too lazy to go back and edit it, so I apologize for the repetition of what was said previously.

My first observation is that much of the discussion here assumes a false dichotomy. Christianity and atheism are not the only two possibilities. A look at the world reveals a wide diversity of religions, all with followers who fervently believe the religion to be true, and who honestly believe they 'know' their gods. To an outsider, the various religions all have roughly the same chance of being true. So, when an atheist discusses the possibility of a god or gods, there's no reason to assume the god is going to have a particular set of attributes. Unless evidence is presented for a particular god, all characteristics seem equally likely.

The above relates to the morality argument, because for an atheist, there's no reason to assume that a god is moral or immoral. People believe in both types of gods, so both seem like equally plausible possibilities.

The owner of this blog doesn't want to use the Euthypro dilemma in an argument about whether or not gods exist. I agree. Following the discussion above, the morality of a god has no bearing on its existence. However, I do think the Euthypro dilemma presents a serious problem as using a god's will as a basis for morality. Likewise, I don't think the Problem of Evil is a problem for theists (especially considering the nature of Yahweh as presented in the OT - Job especially - there's just no reason to assume that a god would be good).

Moving past that, though, this whole arguing over morality seems to be an argument from consequences. You're saying that if there's no god, then there's no objective morality. I say, so what? I don't think there is an entirely objective morality. And wishing really, really strongly that there were one still doesn't make it so. The same goes for meaning or purpose to the universe.

We humans are the result of several billion years worth of evolution. For the past several million, we've been evolving as a social species, so we've evolved instincts that aid our survival in a social environment. Since those instincts are so ingrained in the way we think, and so pervasive in humans, and practically all of our interactions are with humans, it's easy to slip into thinking that they're more than just instinct, and that they're universal rules that apply to the entire universe. But that's nothing more than projection.

Fatboy said...

Hmm. This comment appears to have been dropped the first time I posted it, so I apologize if it shows up twice.

In response to a few comments in particular:

You have begged the question, assuming from the outset a naturalistic view of evolution and natural selection, which is what you are trying to demonstrate.

A naturalistic view of evolution is already demonstrated. We know very well how evolution works, and we have a very good understanding of the history of life on this planet. It is entirely explainable without supernatural entities, so there's no reason to assume that a supernatural entity had any hand in it. By analogy, do you consider it begging the question to assume a naturalistic view of meteorology? Sure, some people believe thunder and lightning are cause by Thor, but we have a very good naturalistic explanation that doesn't need to resort to religion. Why should questions of history be any different?

Brandon, it is you positing a non-good God. Theists do not posit this.

Here are just a few examples of religious positing evil gods (and I would argue that if it weren't for Christianity's insistence on monotheism, that Satan could also be considered an evil deity, just not the creator deity).

Apep
Set
Balor of the Baleful Eye
Crom Cruaich
Eris
Kronos
Loki

Other gods that people have believed in, such as Ares, aren't necessarily evil, but they certainly committed bad acts, so they weren't entirely good, either.


If God exists and has meaningfully created man with purpose then God’s existence does lend itself to man having intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose.

Okay, I'll bite. Please explain the meaning and purpose of life. Note that obedience isn't really much of a profound purpose. Neither is 42.

Anonymous said...

"and that they're universal rules that apply to the entire universe."

So torturing babies may be acceptable...nice philosophy you have there :)

"By analogy, do you consider it begging the question to assume a naturalistic view of meteorology?"

Analogy has nothing to do with it. If you start an argument with a premise that assumes god does not exist and then conclude so, you're begging the question. So yes, I do. To prove me wrong, please demonstrate how God is not involved in meteorology.

"Brandon, it is you positing a non-good God. Theists do not posit this.

Here are just a few examples of religious positing evil gods"

I used the word "theists" not religious. There's a commonly accepted difference.

"Please explain the meaning and purpose of life."

You'll need to get up to speed with the rest of what's going on here, first...

Anonymous said...

yeah...weird. Mine did the same thing...

"My first observation is that much of the discussion here assumes a false dichotomy. Christianity and atheism are not the only two possibilities."

Nobody claimed they were, either. This list was posted as my criteria for not believing in God. Read the post in its intended context and becomes clear why it's not a false dilemma.

"The owner of this blog doesn't want to use the Euthypro dilemma in an argument about whether or not gods exist."

You did not read closely. What is written is that the Euthyphro dilemma is unconvincing to me as evidence against God. On the contrary, I find the ED as very good argumentive material for the existence of God.

" Moving past that, though, this whole arguing over morality seems to be an argument from consequences."

Then you'd be incorrect.

"I say, so what? I don't think there is an entirely objective morality."

Fine with me. You're not demonstrating an argument from consequences, you're validating my premise.

"And wishing really, really strongly that there were one still doesn't make it so. The same goes for meaning or purpose to the universe."

Again, fine with me. Neither does wishing there are not make it true...even if you do so really, really strongly.

"We humans are the result of several billion years worth of evolution. For the past several million, we've been evolving as a social species, so we've evolved instincts that aid our survival in a social environment."

If this is true, all you've done is to isolate the manner in which we would apprehend objective moral values and duties, nothing more, which is why, yes, you're begging the question.

Fatboy said...

So torturing babies may be acceptable...nice philosophy you have there :)

My point was, to us, as social animals, torturing babies seems a horrible thing to do. To animals that followed a different evolutionary path, it might not seem so bad. It's not babies, but just look at parasitoid wasps. Turning other insects into zombies seems pretty cruel to us, but to the wasp, it's essential for its offspring's survival. What would be the objectively moral solution?

Look, I really, really like the moral system we humans have developed. I try to be as moral as I can, and I teach my daughter to do the same. I'm just not sure that they're universal truths. Actually, thinking about it a bit more, our current social norms really do seem pretty species-centric. We consider killing of humans to be a horrible crime (rightly), but not so much for other animals. Sure, we have laws against cruelty to animals, but it's definitely not considered as bad as cruelty to humans. If there were an objective morality, why would it be worse to harm one conscious being than another? Or, are we just not living up to the objective morality?


Analogy has nothing to do with it. If you start an argument with a premise that assumes god does not exist and then conclude so, you're begging the question. So yes, I do.

It's not starting off with the assumption that gods don't exist. It's looking at the evidence, and realizing that you don't need to posit a god to explain what's happening. Evolution is perfectly explainable without any deities of any sort, so unless someone presents evidence that a deity is interfering, I don't understand why the possibility should be considered. If we had to consider every baseless possibility, we'd never get anywhere.

Notice that this very clearly is not starting off with the assumption that a god doesn't exist. It's just saying that unless there's some type of evidence of a god intervening in a phenomenon, there's not need to consider the god in the explanation of the phenomenon.

And it's not just limited to gods. It's any potential factor. Returning to my meteorology example, there's no reason to suspect that the majority music taste in a town affects the weather. There has never been any evidence to suggest that it does, and from our current understanding of weather, there's no reason to suspect that it might, so there's no need to investigate the matter. It's not an assumption that towns don't have music tastes. It's just that music taste is irrelevant to weather.

Fatboy said...

To prove me wrong, please demonstrate how God is not involved in meteorology.

If this is the burden of proof, then every argument ever begs the question. To prove me wrong, please demonstrate how Zeus is not involved in generating the photons of light going from your computer screen to your eyes. Maybe he's operating at the quantum level where our understanding isn't all that great yet.

I used the word "theists" not religious. There's a commonly accepted difference.

I don't want to be the type who quotes dictionaries, but: "theism: belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world". So, there are two understandings. I was going by the first, but now I'm guessing you were going by the second. But, since we're not limiting the discussion to Christianity, the distinction is irrelevant. Plenty of polytheists have believed in evil gods, and the creator gods themselves haven't always been good. Brandon's point was that it's entirely possible a god isn't good, which plenty of religious people seem to agree with. So, you can't just brush away the objection as an invented scenario.

You'll need to get up to speed with the rest of what's going on here, first...

Well then, assume I'm still ignorant, but please post your response for the sake of the more enlightened visitors to this page.

Fatboy said...

This list was posted as my criteria for not believing in God. Read the post in its intended context and becomes clear why it's not a false dilemma.

My false dichotomy comment was directed at the discussion going on in the comments, not the original post. I should have made that more clear.

" Moving past that, though, this whole arguing over morality seems to be an argument from consequences."

Then you'd be incorrect.


I guess I misunderstoon the thrust of the argument, then. It seemed to me that the argument was if there's no god, then there can't be an objective morality. Therefore, there must be a god. But I never saw the argument that an objective morality exists in the first place. Maybe I should head on over and read your other blog post fully before commenting any more on this thread.

Well, maybe one more comment-

If this is true, all you've done is to isolate the manner in which we would apprehend objective moral values and duties, nothing more, which is why, yes, you're begging the question.

See my above discussion on begging the question. It's not starting with the assumption that there's no objective morality, it's not finding any evidence to support the existence of an objective morality. There's no reason to suspect something exists without at least a little evidence.

Anonymous said...

"I guess I misunderstoon the thrust of the argument, then. It seemed to me that the argument was if there's no god, then there can't be an objective morality. Therefore, there must be a god. But I never saw the argument that an objective morality exists in the first place."

You're exactly right. We took it as granted.

"There's no reason to suspect something exists without at least a little evidence."

I agree. BTW-there's enough evidence here for me to conclude that you're allright, man. Sorry again to act otherwise. All rational dissent is fine by me, I just heard you wrong the first time around.

And, I answer regularly at the other site, so feel free to hang around there all you like.

Anonymous said...

What an utter (and smug) piece of shit.

I couldn't bear to finish reading your whole list (even aside from the ten page setup...) so here's just a quick analysis of the fallacies employed in your first 3 points:

1. Argument from Ignorance (a fallacy of relevance...)

2. "People find meaning in life, therefore it comes from GAWD." Argument from ignorance ("science offers no quantifiable explanation for the 'meaning and purpose' we claim exists in our lives, therefore gawd is the explanation.") Irrelevant.

3. Argument from Ignorance..."we lack a scientific explanation of why humans develop moral systems, therefore gawd is the best explanation."

A masterpiece of self-delusion. I couldn't even force myself to finish it.

quixote said...

Hey anonymous...

What's smug is feeling the need to explain what the argument from ignorance is, as if you're the only one here that's familiar with it :)

What's funny is that your application of it is truly irrelevant...these are reasons I might consider deconverting...not formal arguments for God.

So, I'm left to conclude that not only did you not finish, you never really began. So much for the open-minded skeptic, in this case at least.

Nathan said...

Points 1.1-1.4: These require evidence for a negative, which is damned hard to give. All we can do is say that yes, we can explain each of these things as a series of neurons firing in the brain. We can shoot your brain with electrons or chemicals, as you prefer, to create them. And that makes them naturalistic. I cannot state, nor am I obligated to state, how they evolved.

Point 1.5: amusing.

Point 1.6: The same as points 1-4. We can make it happen in a lab, so it's not "divine". Just electrical. Pretty awesome, and hugely successful evolutionarily. But still just electrical impulses.

Point 1.7: I cannot falsify your beliefs because they are personal. I can point to the place in the brain where they come from, but you can argue that that place was created by god to give you a sense of the divine. This will never be done.


Point 2.1: We're working on it. Seriously, we are. With our limited resources and our finite but impressive brains, we are truly trying to make this possible. Damn if we know how, though.

Point 2.2.: You're a Christian? Interesting! If I could demonstrate historical inaccuracies in the Bible, would that lead you to the conclusion that it was an inaccurate source of information, and force you to rely on other evidence for Jesus's resurrection? You'd find none. I can do this. Would it help?

Point 2.3: Compatibilism is a No True Scotsman, where the Scotsman is Free Will. You define free will to exclude the problematic areas.


Point 3.1: Nothing can come from nothing. On the other hand, since our universe exists in at least 4 dimensions, the fourth being time (proved to interact with space by a number of things), our universe has existed for all "time", because outside our universe, there is no "time".

Point 3.2: It *is* true, though. Demonstrably. We can make it happen in a lab. And that means that we don't *need* a creator to have existed. I think you undervalue this point.

Point 3.3: They have, so have atheists, human morals have nothing to do with theism. Good call.

Point 3.4: Each kind of theism is testable. I can prove to you that Herod died 10 years before Quirinius was governer of Syria, so Jesus couldn't have been born during the intersection of their reigns. I cannot test "theism", the proposition that a god exists, because of the argument that I call "What if he's hiding?".

Point 3.5: All these are valid reasons in support of atheism but do not invalidate theism.

Point 3.6: I'm not impressed by it either.

Point 3.7: I'm not impressed by them either.

Sylvain Poirier said...

I consider the debate in a very different way: I make a clear separation between several questions:
- On the one hand the metaphysical issues (existence of afterlife and miracles)
- On the other hand, the question of the effective presence of God's will and inspiration on Earth in the form of any specific religion (or any other form).

Indeed I deconverted from Christianity while keeping a belief in afterlife. And I found that, while it seemed paradoxical at first, after a long examination and experience everything became much clearer in this way.
Here is my version of some important reasons or circumstances to convert or deconvert.

mk said...

"For something to come from nothing is a logical impossibility, in direct violation of the law of non-contradiction"

I don't think you know what these words mean. Logic is formal ... it's a set of rules for well formed sentences in the language of logic. The law of non-contradiction says that "P and not P" is false. That is not a statement about causation or any other temporal matter, and nothing (that is referentially transparent, per Liebniz's Law) can be substituted for P that would make your claim valid. The statement "at time T0 there was something and at times before T0 there was not something" is not a logical contradiction at all.

In addition, your fourfold dichotomy assumes naive conceptions of time. You should learn some modern physics.

Your response to Ebon Musings is far better than the first response he got, but it's still full of special pleading, burden shifting, and other forms of intellectual dishonesty. "there may be a willing or unwilling supression of the sensus divinitatis occuring" -- that doesn't insult me, but it should be extremely embarrassing to you that you would offer something so grossly dishonest. It's like saying that, if you disagree with me, it's because you're suppressing the "sensus everything-I-say-is-true-atis".

mk said...

I fear that you will think I am a hopeless theist, but I am aware of the work being done in these areas. As far as the emotions go, there is no doubt that natural causes figure in to their existence. To go from there to the supposition that only natural causes are responsible is a philosophical argument,not a scientific one.

Bullpucky. Vitalism fell to science; to continue to cling to it in the face of the scientific evidence and the scientific explications of life as metabolism, reproduction, homeostasis, etc. is simply perverse. To insist that it's still possible that something else is causal isn't metaphysics, it's intellectual dishonesty. The same is true of the mental as is true of the vital.

My question is not "how did they arise?" but more along the lines with whether they are more compatible with the reduction to materialism or supernaturalism.

Ockham's Razor. Supernaturalism adds nothing explanatory and would itself require massive explanation that supernaturalists fail to offer and cannot offer; it is clung to by children.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think you know what these words mean. Logic is formal ... it's a set of rules for well formed sentences in the language of logic. The law of non-contradiction says that "P and not P" is false."

I'm continually amazed at unwarranted pompousness, both from sceptics and believers. In your case, you've clearly demonstrated you don't know what these words mean.

It is obvious that a thing can be P and not P. For instance, I am a father (P) and a son (not P). The law of non-contradiction states that a thing cannot be P and non-P at the same time and in the same relationship, not simply P and non-P.

Now, hopefully, that you understand what the words mean, please explain to the group how a thing can have being (P) and non-being (non-P) at the same time and the same relationship.

"You should learn some modern physics."

If you would like me to taunt you a second time, try me...

"Your response to Ebon Musings is far better than the first response he got, but it's still full of special pleading, burden shifting, and other forms of intellectual dishonesty."

You mean like acting as though one knows what the law of non-contradiction is when they don't?

"Bullpucky. Vitalism fell to science; to continue to cling to it in the face of the scientific evidence and the scientific explications of life as metabolism, reproduction, homeostasis, etc. is simply perverse. To insist that it's still possible that something else is causal isn't metaphysics, it's intellectual dishonesty. The same is true of the mental as is true of the vital."

Thanks for proving my point; you're offering philosophy, not science. Now, please prove to us how the same is true of the mental as is of the vital, as if anyone here is a vitalist.

"Ockham's Razor. Supernaturalism adds nothing explanatory and would itself require massive explanation that supernaturalists fail to offer and cannot offer; it is clung to by children."

See, canned responses do not count as thought. I asked how they were more compatible with a reduction to materialism. Step up, pal...

Anonymous said...

I do believe that everything is meaningless. For us, anyways; no way to tell what the bigger picture is when we're so small. To think that we're somehow special and gifted beings just because we're the smartest existence we know of just strikes me as ignorant and egotistical given that all you need to do in order to see just how tiny you are is to go outside and look up.

The ultimate goal of our lives, in my opinion, is happiness. Theism is a tool to help some people cope with and remain happy in the face of overwhelming logical evidence to suggest that human life is completely and utterly irrelevant when you look at the bigger picture.

Atheists face and make peace with that fact or try to find ways to circumvent it while theists hide from and reject it altogether. Doesn't really matter to me in which way a person decides to cope and no one way is better than another imo.

Purely factually speaking, though, religion is false. It's a bedtime story for adults. You can choose not to admit that, or even not to believe it, but anybody with three-fourths a brain of their own knows it.