6/24/08

How to Debate Theism/Atheism

Alright, the Iowan floodwaters have receded and it's time for me to add something of substance here. As some of you may have seen in my introduction, I like to talk about philosophy and how it relates religious belief (or the lack thereof). Most of my posts will be explorations of the arguments for or against God's existence, and I do expect there to be formidable criticisms of my posts. As any veteran of this kind of fare will tell you, many times the content of criticisms tends to simply repeat itself. For example, if I argue for the existence of God based on the objective nature of morality, it would be common for someone to answer that the only thing we can take from the existence of objective morality is that morality is objective. That isn't necessarily a bad thing- there are real objections that people on both sides need to confront. But in order to keep things flowing, I thought I'd offer a small rubric on methodology.

+/-

H
Not many in the world of philosophy of religion declare that there is a single argument that proves their entire worldview. In fact, most Christian apologists rely on some kind of cumulative case for their position. William Lane Craig, for example, usually offers nearly a half-dozen arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity. Further, pending your opinion of his work, Plantinga has shown that there are a bevy of beliefs for which we do not require evidence, of which God-belief may be one. Despite rumors, Plantinga has offered arguments of his own against what he calls naturalism, but he uses these arguments differently than your classical apologists.

What I'm trying to get at is a coherent way to think of these arguments. I'm already working on my first entry into the debate for this blog, and I'm consciously "neutering" the argument of overblown claims of victory. For example, I tend to think that the Argument from Reason (and its sister, the EAAN) is a generally successful argument. What does it mean for an argument to be successful? Whatever it means in another context or with another poster, I take a successful argument to be one that offers plausible premises and a conclusion that follows. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? With this tame criteria for an argument, even Richard Dawkins can offer a successful argument:

1) A universe made by God would differ than one made by natural occurences.
2) Our universe fits better with a naturalistic universe than with a theistic universe.
.: Therefore, our universe is more likely to be naturalistic than theistic.

(Adapted from Gregory E. Ganssle, “Dawkins's Best Argument”, Philosophia Christi 10 (2008): 44.

(1) appears to be non-controversial, so I won't comment on it.

The support for (2) comes from the idea that out of all the ways God could have brought His desired universe about, the big bang and evolution seem unlikely whereas they fit perfectly with a naturalistic universe. I think we all will grant this.

His conclusion, therefore, ought to be considered support for naturalism, and is a successful argument insofar as that goes. However, this argument does not appear to be very powerful, or at least persuasive. Since the existence of God is only challenged probabilistically and not logically, we can udercut this defeater by offering other arguments that we believe are successful (the moral, design or experiential arguments, for example) and avoid the conclusion of Dawkins's argument.

In like manner, I hope that my future contributions to this blog will be understood thus: that we are able to separate the successfulness of an argument from the probability of a certain worldview being true.

19 comments:

  1. Hi Josh

    Nice post. Can you provide any links to Plantinga on the questions you mention of 'evidence without belief'? Or maybe this summarises the position - I have just read an academic discussion that talks about it at http://stairs.umd.edu/236/plantinga.html -

    "Plantinga notes that some have objected: if you have no evidence for the existence of God, belief in God will be groundless. However, Plantinga thinks that if this sort of claim were applied even-handedly, it would lead to very peculiar results. He asks us to consider three sorts examples, corresponding to three kinds of beliefs. 1. I see a tree. -- a perceptual belief 2. I had breakfast this morning. -- a memory belief 3. That person is angry. -- a belief about someone else's mental states. These sorts of beliefs are commonly held to be basic. When we have certain sorts of experiences, we form such beliefs. The experiences are the grounds for the beliefs, but they are not evidence. Why not? Because we do not first note that we are having a certain sort of experience and then reason to the conclusion that, for example, we had breakfast this morning. We don't even do this unconsciously, one suspects. We simply have the experience and form the belief."

    Now I think there are deeps flaws in that line of thought, and the link discusses some of them. Nevertheless, Plantinga (like yourself Josh) seems like a very thoughtful person and certainly someone who has taken the time to understand the atheist position and the nature of the argument, all too rare around these parts.

    I was raised a strong Catholic and have come to the atheist position in recent years. And my own experience confirms the fact that, as you and Plantinga point out, a belief (or a change in belief) does not arise out of conscious consideration of a material fact. The mind typically works by forming a belief and justifying it post-hoc - there is a great article by a neurologist called 'On Being Certain' . And the power of certain types of belief (mostly religious) in the face of overwhelming material evidence is well documented - see the Great Disappointment. Obviously beliefs have an important social aspect. As I became friends with a group of non-religious people I began to give more thought and weight to arguments I had previously ignored. The material facts and logical arguments that support atheism became clearer to me.

    Of course I suppose it is still important to me to demonstrate that atheism is correct, just as it is important (divinely so) for the bloggers here to show that there is actually a god. But it's also good to step back and consider that there are very few examples of people being converted or deconverted during an argument. I'm pretty sure there are none based on blogs. Belief is much more complex than that.

    With that said let the flaming resume. Because god is imaginary.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Two problems
    -God CAN be attacked logically (it is the basis for much of atheism)

    - Order can evolve from choas. In fact if you look at the universe it is entirely random at the bottom and the top, but shows order in the middle. I believe it is due to a property called self organization.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Really, [other] Stan?

    The idea that a universe would be created in Dawkins' favored manner if it had been done by a creator has no bearing on whether it was created by a sentient, powerful being.

    This is absolutely true, but it is not the first premise in the argument posed:

    A universe made by God would differ than one made by natural occurences.

    Still beating on straw men?

    The fact is that the universe is rational in the sense that we can understand it.

    Yet we do not understand it, so the statement that "we can understand it" is false, and by your reasoning the universe is therefore irrational. At best, we feel we have a reasonably solid grasp on a small portion of an infinitessimally smaller portion of the universe.

    [The universe] is not chaotic, it has order which it follows consistently.

    Yet to our knowledge the universe follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics: order reduces to chaos. So your statement here is also false; whatever order the universe displays deteriorates to chaos.

    There is no reason to believe that such orderly laws would proceed from a "natural" explosion. Explosions as we know them produce chaos, not order in the form of rational laws of physics.

    Actually, if you were aware of any of the laws of physics, even a little bit, and especially if you actually understood any of them at all, you would know that explosions as we know them are instead as perfectly ordered as any process we can observe.

    As to an explosion producing the laws of physics, we recognize that the laws of physics as we know them exist, and that there was an immense explosion some 14.7 billion years ago (which explosion occurred right here: · ). We know, however, that the laws of which we are aware fail in the first 10^-43 seconds following the Big Bang. We conclude that either these laws exist separate from the spacetime in which we observe their relationships (yet still fail in the Augustinian epoch), or that they were a result of the explosion which caused spacetime to erupt to the point at which we today observe it.

    Also, due to the 2nd Law, since chaos is ever-increasing (as a whole -- not necessarily locally), we can posit that the universe began in complete chaotic "density", but as spacetime expanded, the density was reduced, even though the actual amount of chaos increased. No contradictions need to occur for the Big Bang explanation to be plausible, and all evidence to date points to it as having occured.

    [F]or Dawkins to presume to know what a sentient being of that magnitude would do is a category error, comparing mortal mind with the mind of a diety

    Agreed, but again, this straw man is not Dawkins' statement, nor even a caricature of any true resemblance. Instead, he contends that a universe with a divine origin would differ from one without a divine origin. Shall I requote?

    A universe made by God would differ than one made by natural occurences.

    The implication here is that if there is no difference between the two universes, then there is no reason to posit the existence of a deity. As Laplace famously told Napoleon, "I have no need of that hypothesis". Without a difference, you have no basis to argue for any deity, much less any particular deity.

    Of course, you give away your logical dawdlings when you said:

    Since Dawkins' premise is incorrect, his conclusion is false.

    Of course you should realize that the conclusion is not necessarily false when the logic is flawed. In this case, the premise is not incorrect, but nonetheless your vain attempt at logical deception is again noted. In the case of this particular argument (by Dawkins), the weakness is due to the inflated strength of Premise 2, which Josh noted already. It is a plausibility statement made regarding entities for which we will never have sufficient evidence to completely prove (or disprove, as it were).

    Your addition to this blog, thus far, is unimpressive, to say the least.

    --
    Stan

    ReplyDelete
  5. franith said,
    "Because god is imaginary."

    This incomplete phrase is just a shot in the dark. You have made that assumption based on the fact that you can't access a deity in your material world. However, assuming that the first effect had a first cause, and that cause is outside and beyond the effect just like all the causes we observe daily, then that cause is transcendent, not imaginary.

    To the materialist these are indistinguishable. That does not mean they are the same. And the materialist cannot prove that they are the same. The accusation then is not the product of material evidence, it is the product of either the inability to discern the difference, or the wish for it to be true.

    Non-material entities abound, including math, logic, philosophy, and the first principles. These are not imaginary, they merely transcend the material boundaries to which Atheists restrict themselves. Some of these also form the foundational basis for rational thought.

    Out-of-hand rejection of transcendence while simultaneously claiming rationality which uses transcendence as a basis... is not rational. In fact, in this case it is the (false) view of rationality that is imaginary.

    This inability (or refusal) to recognize transcendence is also at the root of the following issue:

    "And the power of certain types of belief (mostly religious) in the face of overwhelming material evidence is well documented - see the Great Disappointment.

    This is not a case against a first cause or deity, it is a case against erroneous ecclesiaticism. If your beef is with the human church rather than a transcendent deity, that is another category... if it is your reason for Atheism.
    The existence of a deity is not influenced by any misuse of ecclesiasticism by humans.

    The same fallacy is committed in the Dawkins statement that a god would have created a different universe. This statement is used as the axiom for the Atheist conclusion, but the axiom is false. Therefore, so is the conclusion. The categories abused here are (a)a human mind (Dawkins') and (b)the mind of a deity. These categories are mutually exclusive, yet Dawkins conflates them with the added arrogance that he, Dawkins, knows what a deity would and should do. It is a logical fallacy: category error. It is false and so is the conclusion drawn from it. Making up sayings and calling them axioms is a risky way to go.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Stan the half truth teller is back:
    (unfortunately I deleted my comment due to some unnecessarily barbed statements, but not in time to prevent its access.)

    Stanthtt juxtaposed an answer before the question, an inversion to make it appear illogical. My statement was:

    "The idea that a universe would be created in Dawkins' favored manner if it had been done by a creator has no bearing on whether it was created by a sentient, powerful being."

    His response:
    "Still beating on straw men?


    The primary point here is that Dawkins is in no position to acertain what a deity would or would not do. To do so is an arrogation and a category error, comparing Dawkins' mind to the deity's mind. Regardless of his opinion of himself, Dawkins is not in the same category as a deity.

    Secondarily, What Dawkins thinks about the deity or any other entity doesn't affect its existence. He can think anything he wants without affecting the actual truth at all.

    Stanthtt, goes on,

    "Actually, if you were aware of any of the laws of physics, even a little bit, and especially if you actually understood any of them at all, you would know that explosions as we know them are instead as perfectly ordered as any process we can observe."

    Then you will certainly grace us with a simple, single, uniform equation perfectly describing all the variables involved in all explosions, thanks.

    And your understanding of entropy being the creator of chaos ignores that it is an orderly, known and describable process. You have deliberately misstated the case for orderly physical laws.

    I said: "The fact is that the universe is rational in the sense that we can understand it."

    Stanthtt said:
    "Yet we do not understand it, so the statement that "we can understand it" is false, and by your reasoning the universe is therefore irrational."
    [my emphasis]

    You have descended into ridiculousness at this point. To claim that "because we don't understand it, we can't understand it" is just, well, foolish. If scientists believed this, they wouldn't continue to be scientists.

    You are arguing just to hear yourself argue. Your puffery is not justified. Nor is any more of my time justified in silly arguments with you, sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Howdy franith,

    My awkward sentence was supposed to show that Plantinga believes that we have beliefs that are not justified on evidential grounds. For example, you and I don't believe that we are not in a matrix-world because of any argument- it is a basic belief. If this really interests you may want to read his paper here:

    http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

    (If this appears to be an item of interest, I could take some time to flesh out Plantinga's epistemology and my opinion of it)

    Of course I suppose it is still important to me to demonstrate that atheism is correct, just as it is important (divinely so) for the bloggers here to show that there is actually a god. But it's also good to step back and consider that there are very few examples of people being converted or deconverted during an argument. I'm pretty sure there are none based on blogs. Belief is much more complex than that.

    It certainly is, and I appreciate your thoughts on that. I do think that we can underrate the impact of a medium on a person- blog or otherwise- but I don't write every post with the full conviction that all who see my words will tremble under their force. I consider myself a pretentious gasbag most of the time. However, if people read what I (and others here) have to say about our beliefs and throw a second thought our way then I'll be happy. In true Plantingian form, I ain't about flexing my own muscles to some anonymous internet foes as I am about trying to show that God-belief (specifically Christianity) is not delusional.

    To Stan-

    I didn't mean to make anything out of the Dawkins argument other than show that 1) Dawkins has produced a coherent, respectable argument and 2) Show that a good argument for some belief system does not have to be a knockout-punch.

    I tend to think that Dawkins is probably right when he claims that an evolutionary past is predicted more strongly in a naturalistic universe than a theistic one. For what it's worth, our universe as we know it does not allow life to just pop into existence. Probably, it would take a long amount of time and incremental change for a naturalistic account of life to be acceptable. Since that is probably true, and theism does not have a close tie to evolution (God could do it in six days, or instantaneously) we may as well admit that naturalists have got a point. I think it is a perfectly logical argument, if not a immensely weak and a bit uninteresting.

    In the same way, I don't think the problem of evil "proves" that theism is false, but if all we had was the problem of evil I would be an atheist, in all probability. However, we also have good reasons for being theists against the PoE, so I feel justified (not to mention comfortable) in saying that evil is a toughy, but not the last word.

    Peaches,

    Josh

    ReplyDelete
  8. franith: that was an excellent article on Plantinga, thanks for linking it. Although I fear that stan may throw another hissy fit at The Great Pumpkin.

    stan:
    "However, assuming that the first effect had a first cause"

    You are begging the question. How do you know that there was a first cause? You argued in your opening article that we don't even know how to define "cause" outside of space-time, although you still claimed it happened.

    Even supposing there was something like a first cause, how do you know that this universe is its first effect?

    "Non-material entities abound, including math, logic, philosophy, and the first principles. These are not imaginary, they merely transcend the material boundaries to which Atheists restrict themselves. Some of these also form the foundational basis for rational thought.

    Out-of-hand rejection of transcendence while simultaneously claiming rationality which uses transcendence as a basis... is not rational."


    You seem to equivocate between God-like transcendence and non-material concepts which are just abstract. Unless you're arguing that math, logic and philosophy created the world and performs miracles when atheists aren't watching?

    As far as I know, rational thought (or any algorithm) requires a substrate - philosophy doesn't transcend the need for a substrate just because the concept is abstract and non-material; I wouldn't call philosophy "transcendent" any more than limericks or dreams are transcendent.

    "There is no reason to believe that such orderly laws would proceed from a 'natural' explosion. Explosions as we know them produce chaos, not order in the form of rational laws of physics."

    There is also no reason to believe that physical laws could not emerge naturally with the emergence of space-time itself. If you have a reason to believe so, let's hear it.

    It is also a false analogy to compare a deterministic physical reaction (which we can perfectly describe) taking place in a quasi-static space-time metric to the instance of formation of space-time itself (which we have no idea how to describe).

    "Regardless of his opinion of himself, Dawkins is not in the same category as a deity. "

    Aw, bummer.

    "Then you will certainly grace us with a simple, single, uniform equation perfectly describing all the variables involved in all explosions, thanks.

    And your understanding of entropy being the creator of chaos ignores that it is an orderly, known and describable process. You have deliberately misstated the case for orderly physical laws."


    You appear to be using the terms "chaos" and "order" in a colloquial sense rather than their mathematical sense. Chaos or "chaotic" is usually reserved for a condition in non-linear dynamical systems. Although an explosion may look messy, it is in principle deterministic: given the laws of physics, all the future dynamics of the system is determined by its initial and boundary conditions, even for a chaotic system.

    What purpose would it serve to write down all the equations that describe an explosion? Someone could certainly do it if you're really interested; millions of dollars (if not billions) have been spent on supercomputers for the purpose of simulating thermonuclear explosions by evaluating such equations.

    Didn't you say somewhere that you used to work in "R&D"? I wonder what sort.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great comments gentlemen.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Josh,

    I did find the Plantinga article you mentioned this morning. I don't know if I'm that impressed by it though. His endgame seems to rest on his replies to this question:

    the atheological evidentialist objector claims that the theist without evidence is irrational, ...Why does he take it that the theist is somehow dysfunctional, at least in this area of his life?

    I think, to take what what we were saying about belief a little further, when we 'believe' something it is actually unrelated to material facts. The 'belief' subsystems in the brain are not continually recalibrating themselves against incoming infomation - rather it is belief systems continually feeding into perceptions. So know that i have hair on my head right now, but it's not because i can feel it or see it directly, it's just because my brain's perception management has decided to believe that. I can easily check it, and if i was to suddenly find it wasn't there, it would still actually take a few moments for my belief to disappear, and in between i would have a few seconds of 'cognitive dissonance', perhaps trying to explain these fresh 'material facts' some other way - perhaps i'm dreaming, perhaps my hand is numb for some reason.

    JUMP: Because of the nature of belief and its place in the mind, I think (believe?) that carving out a special subset of 'basic beliefs' is false. Why is believing in God any different to believing in having hair on your head? Both are simply concepts that the brain takes as true, based on various forms of evidence. And, although it depends on the belief and its consequences, beliefs are always hard to dislodge in the human mind. But it does not, by their own nature, make them rational or justifiable.

    People have held wrong beliefs throughout all of history in the face of the available evidence. Eg despite the available contrary evidence, people believed that the sun went around the earth for thousands of years. The data was simply interpreted in a way that accorded with such beliefs, and I think one would be quite entitled to call this a 'basic belief' under Plantinga's system. Yet it was objectively wrong, laughably so, and reflects on the human tendency to abstract nature out into a big sensible plan when the evidence for any such plan really isn't there.

    To acquire a new belief - that is, to decide something is true - some external input is required. (External to consciousness that is - for example a headache is external input).

    You and I don't believe we're in the Matrix. If challenged to justify that belief, we can answer we don't believe it because we have no evidence for it. But that's separate to our belief.

    So, to go back to Plantinga's point. The reason WHY atheists object to theists is not because we think theists are mentally ill (all the time). A theist brain works the same way with beliefs and facts that an atheist's brain does. It's because we think theists are wrong, and their belief is ill-founded.

    And this works both ways.

    I think the atheist position still remains the logical one.

    Typically this claim is met with cries by Stan that atheist evidentiary claims are somehow narrow-minded and not considering the 'immaterial' like numbers and logic. But numbers and logic arise from material things. If there was no universe, there would be no 7. Everyone knows numbers exist. They aren't spiritual or transcendent, they are just a form of abstracting reality. Numbers are part of my complete materialist universe.

    Consider perhaps an alternative 'analog' universe, where all reality is expressed in curves and waves somehow. It is bizarre, but numbers would not exist in that universe, only a continuum that would have to be described in some other way.

    I think, regarding the 'evidentiary problem', there are two possibilities for God:

    1) God has real ('material') manifestations, eg
    - inspiring the Bible,
    - revealing objective moral truths to certain people,
    - answering prayers,
    - favouring certain people or races,
    - intervening in specific situations to cause supernatural and unexplainable events,
    - entering into people's hearts and causing divine warm fuzzy feelings

    If there was acceptable evidence of such things, it would be justifiable to believe in God. But it seems clear to me that the relevant manifestations available would tend to suggest there is no such God - disease, earthquakes, the vast hostility and emptiness of the universe, the evolutionary self-interest that can be found in so called 'objective' morals.

    Despite Stan's protest to the contrary, i think it is clear that all but the basest forms of theism make such 'materialist' claims.

    Theists often assume that atheists are missing that vital, non-materialist evidence. But i have seen and believed that evidence myself. I have felt the breath of god while getting confirmed, i have felt the warm fuzzy feelings and the bond of Jesus at youth group, i have seem god's glory in nature and etc. And yet it is all material i judge and take into account when forming my belief that it is all, in fact, baloney. I just don't see where the 'non-material' evidence reply can stand up.


    But perhaps
    2) God is entirely non-material. By this i mean God merely watches and then judges. There is no possible way for humans to reasonably detect that he exists. But if god is non-material and has no interactions with earth or nature, then that is Deism. It does not make sense to say that a God who 'loves us' or wishes our 'salvation' could stand aside and have entirely nothing to do with the natural world.


    i believe i am hungry and have to stop now.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Stan the half truth teller is back

    Had I gone somewhere? Actually, I have been here, exposing your nonsense, time and again. Every time you post, it seems, you screw something up... This time, you either failed to read my post, deliberately misstated my position and/or arguments, or your reading comprehension is severely lacking.

    I'm guessing some combination of the three...

    The primary point here is that Dawkins is in no position to acertain what a deity would or would not do.

    No, [other] Stan, but you are free to argue that "point" if you like. If you had actually read my response to your hastily (but not hastily enough) deleted post, you'd have seen this part:

    This is absolutely true, but it is not the first premise in the argument posed:

    A universe made by God would differ than one made by natural occurences.


    Dawkins did not "acertain what a deity would or would not do", which I have already agreed would be a fallacious position. Instead, if you'd read the original argument as transcribed by Josh, he merely says that a universe with purely natural causes would differ (by implication in some [eventually] measurable way) from one which had supernatural causes.

    That is all he is saying. He isn't even saying we can yet detect these differences, however subtle they may be, and this point is not pivotal to his argument, which Josh and I agree is weak. Get it through your thick head and recognize the actual statement, and quit picking on a position no one holds.

    Then you will certainly grace us with a simple, single, uniform equation perfectly describing all the variables involved in all explosions, thanks.

    Certainly, but since entering an equation in a featureless text editor is tedious, you'll have to accept the equation as a statement:

    The sum of all forces (vectors) acting on a given particle in a given explosion is equal to the mass of the particle multiplied by its acceleration (vector):

    ΣF = mā


    Or, if you like, you can continue to illustrate your misunderstanding of physics.

    And your understanding of entropy being the creator of chaos ignores that it is an orderly, known and describable process. You have deliberately misstated the case for orderly physical laws.

    Your first sentence is extremely ambiguous, and I'd appreciate it if you'd state it more clearly. Specifically, you need to identify the noun signified by the pronoun "it" -- are you referring to entropy, chaos, the creator, or my understanding? Also, when you describe "it" as an "orderly... process", do you mean that it is orderly because we can describe it, or is it describable because it is orderly? Are we still talking about order v. chaos in terms of entropy, or in terms of something which is methodical?

    As to "deliberately misstat[ing] the case for orderly physical laws", you presume too much. If I have misstated something, point it out. If you presume that the physical laws are orderly, then you are highly mistaken. Certainly, many of the physical laws have apparently "orderly" relationships (if by "orderly" we mean relatively simple), but quite obviously a great deal are not "orderly" relationships in this same manner of speaking.

    I suppose, though, that if you prefer merely to attack me, rather than recognize the faults in your arguments that I have exposed, well, that is your prerogative.

    To claim that "because we don't understand it, we can't understand it" is just, well, foolish.

    Yes, and that's why I don't hold that position, and that's why I mocked your position, which, again, if you'd read my post, you may have noticed:

    and by your reasoning the universe is therefore irrational. (emphasis added)

    Or do you now contend that science can eventually understand the universe in all its splendor? If our understanding remains incomplete, is that not an indication, by your logic, that the universe is not rational?

    Please, [other] Stan, choose your poison. Is the universe, and all its secrets, something humans can understand completely, making it rational and rendering impotent your notion of deity, or is it something we cannot understand completely, rendering it fundamentally irrational?

    If you please, I respectfully request that any answer you give be free of [deliberate] misrepresentations of opposing positions, and that you actually read the posts you wish to engage. I'm fairly certain you don't see me, or anyone else, misrepresenting your position...

    To Josh: I appreciate your posts very much; we may disagree on certain key points, but at least you are honest. It is noted and appreciated.

    --
    Stan

    ReplyDelete
  12. Looks like a debate that will hopefully bear fruit. I tend to take a rather different approach not unlike that of Polkinghorne who used motivated belief as a way of understanding what kinds of knowledge claims are satisfactory based on a given set of premises that are also satisfactory to the observer. Now many philosophers cannot stand this kind of pragmatic position due to its inherent lack of logical rigor. Nonetheless I think it works.

    As I argue, In the final analysis, atheists demand evidence from religions folk who have experienced what they call God that this God is “real”. Said religious folk claim they have the evidence that satisfies them to the degree that this God was real and the experience authentic. However, this kind of evidence will never be satisfying to the whims of the atheist.

    If the experience of “God” is an anomaly in human history, then the atheist desire and demand for scientifically substantiated evidence would be very sensible. The fact is that such experience of God is not a mere anomaly or blip, but a fairly predictable and consistent variable of the human condition. To say that every single instance of this is a delusion seems to be as absurd as arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin - especially when the claim that God does not exist is not a falsifiable claim. It is more reasonable, therefore, to reject the null hypothesis stated above for now.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Stanthtt,
    If it is as you say, your sarcasm that I am trying to decipher, then maybe that is the problem all along. Much of what you write seems to invert and reinvert, and attempting sarcasm would explain that, and my inability to find a thread of logic. So I repeat that it makes no sense to continue in such a discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Howdy franith,

    I think, to take what what we were saying about belief a little further, when we 'believe' something it is actually unrelated to material facts. The 'belief' subsystems in the brain are not continually recalibrating themselves against incoming infomation - rather it is belief systems continually feeding into perceptions. So know that i have hair on my head right now, but it's not because i can feel it or see it directly, it's just because my brain's perception management has decided to believe that. I can easily check it, and if i was to suddenly find it wasn't there, it would still actually take a few moments for my belief to disappear, and in between i would have a few seconds of 'cognitive dissonance', perhaps trying to explain these fresh 'material facts' some other way - perhaps i'm dreaming, perhaps my hand is numb for some reason.

    Plantinga is not delving into the "scientific" issues per se, but rather the nature of justification- when are we allowed to believe something? Do our beliefs have to have evidence in order for us to be justified in holding them?

    Because of the nature of belief and its place in the mind, I think (believe?) that carving out a special subset of 'basic beliefs' is false. Why is believing in God any different to believing in having hair on your head? Both are simply concepts that the brain takes as true, based on various forms of evidence. And, although it depends on the belief and its consequences, beliefs are always hard to dislodge in the human mind. But it does not, by their own nature, make them rational or justifiable.

    Plantinga offers a few thoughts about this. The difference between a belief like "the moon is made of rock" and "we are not living in a matrix-world" is that there is no conceivable evidence for the latter- we must believe it largely on faith. God-belief is so persuasive and basic to so many people that it could be just one of those things that comes pre-packaged in our brains.

    You and I don't believe we're in the Matrix. If challenged to justify that belief, we can answer we don't believe it because we have no evidence for it. But that's separate to our belief.

    But we don't have evidence for the claim that "an external world exists", either. It would be much simpler to say that something like Idealism is true and dispense with this idea of a plurality of objects. However, neither you are I would ever be attracted to this position. Frankly, it seems downright silly to me. But if challenged on it I would be at a loss to provide a coherent reason why I am a realist about material things.

    Typically this claim is met with cries by Stan that atheist evidentiary claims are somehow narrow-minded and not considering the 'immaterial' like numbers and logic. But numbers and logic arise from material things. If there was no universe, there would be no 7. Everyone knows numbers exist. They aren't spiritual or transcendent, they are just a form of abstracting reality. Numbers are part of my complete materialist universe.

    I still don't know what I think about this yet. There is something called the Conceptualist Argument that is (at least) interesting to me. Perhaps I'll have to throw something together and get a reaction from y'all.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Josh,

    I think what I was trying to illustrate with the 'scientific' aspect of my post is that beliefs per se are not a rational basis for anything. The depth of conviction behind a belief is only weakly related to its objective truthfulness. So that is why I don't like Plantinga's whole 'basic belief' idea.

    A belief itself can't demonstrate the truth of anything external, even a belief that seems 'intrinsic' to humanity. As you say, God-belief is so persuasive and basic to so many people that it could be just one of those things that comes pre-packaged in our brains. But as i have pointed out, people have held universally held similar beliefs in the past that have turned out to be wrong. Flat earth, geocentrism, polytheism - at times in the past all of these would be considered 'basic beliefs'.

    To a point these claims were based on evidence. The reply might be that, while there is material evidence that could be cited of geocentrism and polytheism, somehow monotheism is 'instinctively' built in. I would have propounded this argument myself in the past, but I now regard it as a little narrow minded. The Judeo-Christian god is taught, not instinctive, make no mistake, and the idea of a personal god of 'love' or 'judgment' is far from instinctive.

    Rather I would admit that there is a tendency among all humans to perceive abstraction and relationship between objects. This is the essence of humanity and the key to the intelligence that makes humans such a successful species. But it naturally tends towards perceiving a 'spiritual', interconnected world - and onward to deism. This belief, once formed in the human mind, then turns back on nature begins to shape perception itself, so that events that are otherwise unrelated take on 'spiritual' or transcendent connection and meaning. For example I would say that theism then arises from the same kind of spurious material evidence that leads to geocentrism - eg interpreting earthquakes as divine punishment.

    But none of this web of belief and perception makes deism or theism right.

    This why I regard the 'basic belief' idea as wrong. Belief in god is more complex and more deeply held than believing the moon is rock, but it doesn't make the belief justifiable or correct. Plantinga's appeals to this 'basic belief' show us more about human nature than about any divine world.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "The difference between a belief like "the moon is made of rock" and "we are not living in a matrix-world" is that there is no conceivable evidence for the latter- we must believe it largely on faith."

    Might I suggest a little application of the principle of parsimony here. There are an infinite number of potential realities, but of course we don't spend our days rationalizing belief in a particular one by rejecting all others on faith. We do it the other way around, by constructing a mental image of reality that is compatible with our sum total of experiences.

    Now, if all we can ever access is this aspect of reality without any way of ever knowing what the underlying reality might be like, what difference does it make whether this reality is ultimate or only proximate? What possible reason could there be for not acting and thinking exactly as if this aspect of reality that we observe is the de facto reality, even though we can not know it for certain?

    If God or agent Smith never enters the Matrix, then as franith said, this is deism, but from our point of view it is also entirely compatible with non-theism. On the other hand, when God reaches down and does his thing here on Earth, then ultimate reality becomes visible, and we should be able to detect it, and revise our world view.

    "God-belief is so persuasive and basic to so many people that it could be just one of those things that comes pre-packaged in our brains."

    Well there is the "God gene" hypothesis, suggesting that a gene could make us more susceptible to mystical or religious experiences, but it seems a rather unlikely explanation to account for today's widespread religiosity.

    Modern research suggests that the brain does not come pre-packaged with abstract concepts, but neither is it a complete tabula rasa. During embryological development, some sections of the brain are hardwired into performing specific functions, such as sensory and motor functions, while other parts of the brain develop into a general-purpose learning architecture. We owe almost everything we know to that learning ability, but it also makes us vulnerable to "learning" false information.

    On that note, I wouldn't say, as you did, that it is God-belief per se that is persuasive, but rather that it is the preachers, the televangelists, the missionaries and the mullahs, etc, who are seen as persuasive by a lot of people.

    ReplyDelete
  17. franith

    And whomever else, if you head over to Veritas,
    http://www.veritas.org/

    you can download a discussion with
    William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and Atheists Quentin Smith and Ricahrd Gale. Plantinga is very good in that. I believe he is "light years ahead."

    Also there is a seperate discussion with Plantinga and Craig on Science.

    Just hit the search button and find the talks.

    I find a lot of people online are totally misconstruing Plantinga, and often people are not even knowing what it is he is defending.

    I think by watching some of this video's or attending lectures people can gain a greater respect.

    Also, for the atheists here please read this by one of the greatest Atheist thinkers---Graham Oppy

    http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=9563

    Alexander Pruss--review
    " Oppy argues that there are no successful arguments for the existence or non-existence of God. Reasonable people can be agnostics, or theists, or, like Oppy himself, atheists. "

    Interesting indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I disagree with Samuel Skinners comment. Order cannot come from Chaos (on it's own). However to the contrary, due to our sin nature, chaos is forming out of the old order.

    I imagine God created the universe in perfect working order, as He said "It is good" and then after man sinned, the world began to break down and that is where chaos begins.

    ReplyDelete
  19. .

    Some may find this critique helpful as well:

    http://religiopoliticaltalk.blogspot.com/2007/05/atheism-agnosticism-logical-1-my-main.html

    .

    ReplyDelete