Let’s get serious

This is the thread for serious dialogs. I’ll kick things off with a question: Why do believe (or not believe) that a god exists?

184 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by @skanatheist on August 10, 2010 at 4:15 am

    I do not believe in any god, as I find there to be insufficient evidence to support the existence of one (or many). Likewise, I do not believe that there is no god, as the same evidentiary requirement has not been met.

    I call this position a pragmatic lack of belief and feel that it is the most intellectually honest position to take in this issue.

    I invite anyone to offer their objective evidences and will view them with an open mind and honesty.

    Reply

  2. There is absolutely no reason to believe in God. If you’ve read history, you will know the very exact reasons why religion and God were created by us. I’ll give you a hint: power and control!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Joshua on August 10, 2010 at 5:56 am

    I believe that there is an extraordinarily slim chance of there being a god because the lack of evidence that there is a god is too cavernous. Furthermore, although I deeply believe there is much we do not yet understand, I think evidence of a god would certainly be identifiable by now, even if it were indecipherable.

    But I sometimes lament the unliklihood of a god, or more specifically ‘souls’ and afterlives. When my dog died, for example, I really hoped I was wrong. That she persists in some way. As hugely unlikely as it is that there’s anything more than this, I wished it.

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  4. Posted by Ivan Soto on August 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

    I assume that anything that exists is part of nature. Whatever people have ever called god is fantasy. If something like a god ever turns up it would have to be something truly astonishing but no a shred of evidence has ever turned up about anything like that. This presenter rests his case.

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  5. Posted by dokkou on August 10, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I do not believe in a god. there’s not enough evidence, also, if there was a god he’d be one sick fuck since he’s the one to blame for all the diseases. he could’ve made everything perfect but nooo not our god. he wanted all the sick things we do to eachother. he wants people to suffer and turn to him in fear of eternal damnation. it’s not believable for one second. I read the bible and that dude has some serious issues. or maybe I should say that the people who actually read the bible and still believe it are the ones with issues. it’s sick self contradicting nonsens.
    if I did believe in an afterlife I’d make someone kill me right this minute since I’m a chronic MS-pain patient and will (probably) never live to see another pain free second in my short life. but since I do not believe in an afterlife I’d rather be alive but in pain than not exist at all.

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  6. First let’s establish some common ground. Even according to Richard Dawkins, the likelihood of things getting here via evolution are so infinitesimally small as to be statistically impossible, but he believes it anyway. So, based on the creation argument, we are at the least on the same ground: believing something impossible.

    It all comes down to which impossibility is more believable. Since Dawkins admits that some higher intelligence may have designed us (aliens of course; not God – see Expelled) I think we win this round…

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    • There’s an insurmountable gulf between extremely slim probability and logically impossible.

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      • Posted by graceisunfair on August 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm

        True. I understand that you perceive a lack of evidence, but I’m confused as to why that makes it “logically impossible.” Could you help me understand your position better?

      • Logic can’t possibly understand God because the very concept of a God is outside of logic. We must assume that an all-powerful God created logic itself. So there’s no discussion.

        Although it makes one wonder why a being would make it impossible to understand itself.

        I can’t argue this. Every God argument (for or against) ends up in a giant loophole that ends in, “It doesn’t matter so just get on with your life.”

        /<3

      • God is not outside loghic! Whatever is outside loghic does not exist. Wait..

    • Evolution theory says we don’t need God.
      Ockham’s razor says, what you don’t need, leave it out.
      Evolution is incompatible with religious teachings in every possible way, that is why relifreaks will never understand it.

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      • Posted by Kenneth O'Shaughnessy on May 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

        That’s probably the best argument I’ve seen for religious people to reject evolution, instead of trying to fit it into their theology.

        The corollary, of course, would be:
        Creation theory says we don’t need evolution.
        Ockham’s razor says, what you don’t need, leave it out.
        Therefore, Creation is incompatible with evolution, which is why atheists (I’ll avoid the unnecessary insult) will never believe it.

        Your argument doesn’t make a strong case for either position, but it does make a worthwhile case for their incompatibility.

  7. That’s not really how belief works. One needs reasons to believe in something first. No evidence nor rational argument for the supernatural has been presented, so no countermanding evidence need be sought.

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    • The reason is that we need something to believe in.

      I take solace in the fact that I’m god. It wasn’t evidence that led me to this (though I’ve experimented and found that evidence does support the theory), but a stray thought that I liked enough to hold onto.

      /<3

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    • That’s not really how belief works. One needs reasons to believe in something first.

      Actually, you’ll find that is only true within a given belief system, or vocabulary.

      When it comes to the assumption of entire systems (which is what we are really talking about), they tend to spring into place because they are given as a child or better cohere together than the old vocabulary.

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      • That they are given to someone as a child is a — invalid — reason that one believes in it.

        For someone like me who has absolutely no reason at all to believe in god, despite having been taught it as a child — belief is utterly impossible.

      • Oh, I get it. Like a motive for belief, not evidence.

        That could have been said clearer. But you’re right.

        /<3

  8. Trey, let’s get honest here: “No evidence nor rational argument for the supernatural has been presented” is a blatant falsehood, unless you are speaking strictly of this immediate forum. Plenty of religious minds that even secular scholars admire have posited rational arguments for the existence of a higher power. You may disagree with them, but it’s intellectually dishonest to dismiss and ignore them.

    You are also missing the point in your response to my post. Dawkins admits statistical impossibility for the evolution of the universe; therefore he has faith, not evidence. And he further admits the possibility of a higher power. Either you are accusing the standard-bearer of atheistic rationalism of being religious, or your statement is meaningless.

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    • Posted by dokkou on August 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm

      I’d like to see some sources of those statements thank you. I mean the ones about Dawkins not believing in evolution and admitting to belief in a higher power. I’ve read all his books and have not once read anything like that. rather the opposite.

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      • Posted by Clunky on August 10, 2010 at 3:59 pm

        In “The God Delusion” Dawkins says evolution is statistically improbable – which does not mean “impossible”, nor does it mean he doesn’t believe it. He also notes that a higher power is not impossible, but is statistically improbable. He does not say he believes in a higher power.

      • quotes, Clunky

      • Lol, Clunky was correcting, not quoting.

        /<3

    • I didn’t say people haven’t tried to argue for the existence of god. I am saying all have failed. The things cited as evidence don’t support the case and the arguments presented aren’t rational. It doesn’t matter who respects whom. (Did you seriously just try to pull an argumentum ad populum on me? I won’t call you dishonest for that. I’ll just call you stupid.)

      Also, the theory of biological evolution doesn’t apply to the existence of the universe. That’s a non sequitur.

      Finally, I’m not a fan of Dawkins and I would accuse him of rationalism. But that does nothing to help your case. Unlike Dawkins I will argue that god is completely and utterly impossible.

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    • “Let’s get honest here” From a christian??? LOL!!!

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      • Posted by Kenneth O'Shaughnessy on May 6, 2011 at 2:09 pm

        Because obviously the best defense is an ad hominem attack…

  9. Posted by Eric on August 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    You take Dawkins out of context. Yes, the probability of evolution producing the human species IS extremely small, but the universe is as big as the probability is small. There are an enormous number of places in the universe that fulfill the same prerequisites Earth does for supporting life as we know it. Given so much time and so many playgrounds, evolution running its course seems likely.

    However, no phenomena has ever been shown to have no cause. This precludes the ‘god hypothesis’ as being tenable, since there is no precedence whatever, nor any evidence.

    These are two reasons why the extreme improbability of life is a virtual certainty in the face of the near absolute impossibility of an uncaused cause (god).

    Reply

    • Posted by graceisunfair on August 10, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      I haven’t read a lot about it, but from what I’ve read, most scientists would disagree with your statement that there are “an enormous number of places in the universe that fulfill the same prerequisites Earth does for supporting life.” There seem to be numerous factors that eliminate otherwise reasonable places that would support life. I’m not suggesting that that’s evidence for God, but merely suggesting that the underlying principle of your statement (which I perceive as, “the universe is so big, nearly anything could happen, no matter how improbable”) is possibly misguided.

      I’m also no physicist, but as far as I know there’s no consensus on where the matter for the big bang singularity came from. Unfortunately, you can’t logically go backwards far enough (unless time is circular) without coming to an uncaused first cause; whether that’s the big bang or God, I don’t know that we can preclude that based on our not observing it now.

      Additionally, some (Hume is who comes to my mind) have argued that causation is merely our mind’s attempt to connect two things that always seem to happen in succession, and isn’t necessarily a concrete reality. I’m not sure how I feel about his idea, but I thought I’d throw it into the mix.

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      • Posted by Eric on August 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm

        You make a good point–we don’t know how many earth-like zones there may be in the universe. I am no physicist, either, and i have read convincing counter-arguments along the lines you make here, as well, so i am willing to dispose of it.

        As for the origin of matter and the big bang, it doesn’t matter that there is no consensus of where matter came from or how, it only matters that the consensus is NOT (at least not yet) that there was no cause. Should that eventually become the consensus, then the god question might become a real question. As far as humanity currently knows, though, it is not plausible to propose a god when there is hitherto no known god-like phenomena observed, nor any evidence to support such a proposition.

        Put another way, saying, “we don’t know where matter came from” does not mean “god made it” is a good explanation. Even supposing someone were to accept “god made it” as an explanation, the question must simply be rephrased as “what made god?” If god can just simply be, perhaps matter can just simply be, as well.

        Hume’s thoughts on causation are interesting, though i think they are likely to lead to a declaration of never being able to truly know anything, which nullifies all argument, and is therefore itself not an argument worth making.

      • You two are fantastic. According to this argument, either (God or no God) is equally as feasible, and according to the same rules.

        Couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂

        /<3

      • Phenomena is plural. Here are my loghical proofs against the Gods: http://google.com/search?q=site:wikipedia.org+%22Mensa+and+god%22+proof.

  10. If you’re arriving from Twitter, you may want to let us know your twitter username. I’m @almightygod.

    I used to believe in a god (Yahweh) because my family went to church 3 times a week. As is the case for many people, belief was just the default position. In college I got around to learning some of the evidences like the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments. I taught these during my time as a pastor, but then I finally looked at the skeptical responses to these and realized that I was no longer convinced. I now know of no reason to believe in the existence of any gods.

    I’ve been accused of not being serious in my engagement with religion, but what you see on my twitter account is only a portion of my interaction with religion. I have a long history of serious engagement, but this @almightygod project is really more about having fun, blowing off steam and poking fun at some of the sillier aspects of religion. If anyone has serious questions for me, I’m willing to open up a dialog here. But my tweets will probably continue to focus on snark, humor and the foibles of fundamentalist Christians.

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    • Tell me about the logical process you went through that deconstructed your belief in Yahweh. I’ve done something similar, being raised in a Baptist-Christian environment. I’m curious, because it’s clear to me that there are a lot of logical fallacies in the idea of a God, and in the end, even if these are resolved, the question of God is irrelevant. Hell is a logical impossibility, so discarding the idea of God is harmless.

      I’m of the mind that there is one logical answer to everything, it’s just a matter of having the right information. So what information sparked the downfall, and how did you get here from there?

      I’m @Karanime, btw. I once asked if you’d fancy a game of dice. 🙂

      /<3

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    • I basically just stepped back and took a closer look at the evidences that I thought confirmed my childhood faith: cosmological, teleological and moral. Once I looked at both sides of each of these and I learned more about the formation and content of the Bible, I came to the conclusion that Christianity is just another man-made religion.

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      • Ah. I get it, so yours started from the outside in. Mine was the opposite–from the inside out.

        The first thing I noticed was how much Christians seemed to hate everything. There was a whole list, but I didn’t really care about it all. But I thought for sure that people were misinterpreting the Bible when it came to gays. I’m bisexual, but I found that out while I was still strongly Christian. So I looked for a loophole, or something vague that allowed me to fully be who I am without fear.

        And I sort of found one. When you take a particularly absurd piece of scripture, and ask if you’re to follow it, Christians will often either say that was meant for the Hebrew children and this is a “different time,” or that you’re supposed to see it as a metaphor for something else.

        Since no part of the Bible is clearly labeled as for the Jews, a metaphor, or to be taken literally, I came to the conclusion that the entire Bible could be taken as a metaphor, and it wouldn’t matter. This made sense to me. But I was still a Christian, and I still literally believed that Jesus died for our sins so we wouldn’t have to burn forever.

        Then comes the whole God made logic thing. God doesn’t want us to burn forever. Yet some of us do. Impossible, because if He truly didn’t want us to burn, then not letting us burn would have been the only logical option. Also, why punish us for an eternity for something we did in a short 80 years? That’s not even logically sound, and God made logic.

        Then there’s the whole thing where God looks an awful lot like every other god on the face of the planet, to the point where putting them side by side, they’re indistinguishable. But that doesn’t matter if there’s no hell. Which leads me where I am now.

        I agree that there could be a God. I agree that it is logically sound that He could have kickstarted evolution, have a hand in every rain storm, and every gust of wind is his benevolent breath. But it doesn’t matter, because whether I believe this or not, there are no consequences except for the ones right here and now.

        I’m God. This is my dream. You are all figments. Logically sound, it makes me happy, and it gets me friends and makes me confident. Definite step up from Christianity.

        /<3

      • Karanime, you misunderstand hell: http://egroups.com/message/free_energy/35176. And forever/eternal is not without end; it means for as long as something is long. One reckon why Krist wasn’t called for was the expiration date for sin, or “original sin”, was four generations as written on Moshè’s stone tablets.

        almightygod, why did you believe in j·hveh if you were Kristian, instead of Emmanuel? or basileia? or logho and pneýma?

    • hey almightygod, my twitter username is @ysfjwd. I follow you on twitter because of the humour, otherwise i am a staunch believer. 🙂 Ain’t it strange?

      Furthur about me? I am a muslim, Yes, you may call me a terrorist :P.

      There are two reasons for me to believe in God/Allah/Yahweh ..

      1. Physics and the Evolution.

      There is a concept called entropy in Physics, which is defined as the degree of disorder in a system. And for any closed system the entropy is increasing. If we pit entropy against evolution, they contradict. At one stage, the degree of disorder is increasing, and in their increase they came in and formed a perfectly balanced system to sustain life :o. The order and precision of our solar system points to the fact that there is a super natural being, a creator. Whether that creator is God/Allah/Yahweh, is another question.

      For me to believe that the super natural creator is the same God/Allah/Yahweh, story in Quran about Abraham/Ibrahim. When Allah promised Ibrahim that he is going to install him as a leader over the rest of mankind, he only had a couple of dozen followers. That promise evolved. In todays world, there are three major religions, Christians, Jews and Muslims, all variants of the same religion and all the followers believe in Ibrahim’s God. So indirectly, the promise is full filled. From the point with a couple of dozen believers to a point where 70% of world’s population believes in Ibrahim’s God, is a phenomenon cannot be explained by login.

      That promise alone forms the basis of my believe in Ibrahim’s God, that one being to be the super natural being who created the world.

      The last point I would like to make is, Us humans takes God’s benovelance for granted :). thus we mock the injustice in the world :P.

      Having said that, amongst theists, I may be your biggest fan. 🙂

      Reply

  11. Posted by Joshua on August 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    @almightygod, I love your snark, appreciate your humor, and prefer that you poke fun rather than sponsor serious discussion. Why?

    As you no doubt already know based on the personal history you’ve disclosed, serious discussion doesn’t change minds on this issue. People who are convinced that there is a god accept it as indisputable fact. In fact, even science has shown that their brains, at a cellular level, process mythology associated with their god the same as it processes facts such as the blueness of sky. Only the internal reflection of an open mind allows people to consider the option that what they accept as true may not be.

    So, I pitched in earlier with my input, and I may do so in the future. But I fully support your intent to keep it fun. Thanks, @jawschwacox

    Reply

    • As someone on the other side of the debate, I agree with Joshua on keeping the Twitter feed as clever as possible – I’ve been known to forward quite a few tweets myself when they were thought-provoking or clever enough.

      I don’t know if I have that brain pattern or not, but, like @almightygod, I was raised in 3 (or more) times a week church. One could argue that, since so many seem to have that pattern, that it is the evolutionary norm, and those who don’t have it are abnormal 😉 I have frequently contemplated atheism, as it would simplify many things, but have not been able to see that the arguments & evidence are convincing enough to leave the vast majority of humanity and commit to a minority belief. I do like discussion, though, and have changed a lot since my fundy childhood: I’m now a semi-liberal Eastern Orthodox, rather than a fundy Baptist Republican.

      Reply

    • Posted by graceisunfair on August 10, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      Another amazing thing about the human mind is our ability to assume that *we* are the ones who are open-minded, while those other people who believe that thing we don’t believe (whether that be in a god/gods or in a non-theistic worldview) are the close-minded ones.

      Most likely, you’d consider me close-minded for my belief in Jesus, and I’d consider you close-minded for your modernistic view that the perceivable natural world is all there is. Which just proves my point that we can so easily “other” those who are different than us.

      Reply

  12. My twitter is @kempisosha.

    Eric, your fatal flaw here is “no phenomena has ever been shown to have no cause.” For something to have happened, something has to have started it. A view of the universe without a god posits either 1: a universe that has no beginning (which is illogical according to your statement) or 2: an ignoring of the rule you presented, something not allowed in evidential science. Which are you positing?

    The argument from my side, of course, would be that God is not a “phenomena”, but a person, and as such is more likely to have eternal characteristics.

    Note that I am not here primarily trying, at this point, to argue for the existence of God, but rather to show that your “evidence” for his non-existence is no stronger that the evidence for his existence.

    Reply

    • As I said above, I used to find the cosmological argument very convincing, but I’m not able to follow you on a couple of points.

      1. You say that your god is “a person, and as such is more likely to have eternal characteristics.” Can you explain why you think this?

      2. If you’re going to exempt a god from the cosmological chain of causation, then why not skip the extra step and just admit that we don’t know what (if anything) caused the universe? The universe is in a category of its own, so we can’t really say that because the everyday objects we’re familiar with have causes, then the universe must have a cause. The fact is that we just don’t know.

      3. The cosmological argument is a god-of-the-gaps argument. Just because we don’t know what happened, that doesn’t mean that your particular supernatural explanation is true by default. When I look at the history of human ideas, I see a steady stream of supernatural explanations being displaced by natural ones (lightning, disease, species, etc) and I don’t know of any cases where the opposite happened. So, I don’t see the value in pointing to a gap in human knowledge and declaring “God did it.” Let’s be honest and say, “I don’t know, but let’s try to find out.”

      I don’t claim to have evidence of the non-existence of any gods. It’s already pretty difficult to prove that something doesn’t exist, and Christianity has been crafted and pruned over the years to make its god difficult to disprove. For example, as we’ve learned more about the way the world works, we’re told that Yahweh is taking a less active role in world. He no longer lives on a mountain or in a tent or even above the clouds. He has retreated into some invisible and unreachable heaven.

      So, I don’t even attempt to make the case that no gods exist. All I can do is evaluate any evidence that people offer for their gods and judge whether I think the evidence is good enough to warrant belief. So far I haven’t seen any.

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      • I think the whole thing boils down to a “we just don’t know” answer – which, incidentally, is not antithetic to theology. It’s the reason for apophatic theology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophatic_theology), which focuses on the thing we can know, and defines what apparently is by the things it cannot be.

        Replacing supernatural explanations with natural ones does not preclude the idea that God is the cause; it simply means we understand the natural processes that the higher power utilizes. In other words, even the increased explanations for events does not change the argument as to whether God is involved. Saying that God caused a tsunami (although this isn’t part of my theology per se) does not mean that an undersea earthquake, caused by tectonic plate movement, caused by etc. wasn’t the physical cause of the tsunami.

        As to the gaps; they exist in all disciplines. In evolutionary theory, the scientist postulate, based on how they think the world functioned, what those gaps mean – note for example the recent finds in Britain (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/archaeologists-discover-britains-oldest-home-2048927.html). The history of archaeological science shows how many of these guesses were patent lies, or based on extremely sketchy evidence. The problem is, once an explanation like that is presented, it becomes much harder to overcome. On the other hand, saying that “God created man, and events occurred pretty much as the Bible suggests” does not mean that man didn’t live it Britain at whatever point, and exist in that specific region, etc. The supernatural and the natural do not have any conflict except where imposed by man.

        That being said, I don’t know that one can be “logicked” into belief, nor out of it. I’ve tried to accept atheism, but have been unable to. I’ve met former atheists who are now Christians. It seems to be a coincidental shift, rather than a gradual understanding, that makes the difference. Those who get there simply by logic seem to wind up agnostic (in either profession or action) :-).

    • Eh. I’m inclined to look at Ken’s last paragraph.

      The “our universe has to have a cause” argument is tired and loose-ended. It’s not a logical argument for atheism.

      In contrast, the “God doesn’t follow those rules” is a perfectly logical argument, but again, an irrelevant one. God is beyond logic itself, like I said earlier. Any logical argument for God almost goes without saying, whereas trying to logically argue against God is ridiculous and futile.

      Unfortunately, this doesn’t warrant belief. At all. I could say that my pinky created the universe and you couldn’t logically refute it. But you still wouldn’t believe me.

      And that’s why I say that argument for God is useless and might as well not be mentioned at all.

      /<3

      Reply

  13. Posted by Joshua on August 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    @kempisosha:

    Using a lack of evidence that something doesn’t exist as an argument that it does is awfully weak, isn’t it? There’s no evidence that invisible, spined, 900-mile-high unicorns from the 17th dimension control President Obama using telepathy in order to destroy America, either. Are you prepared to support that possibility on the basis that there is no evidence to disprove it? What, too absurd? More absurd than your invisible, omniscient, omnipotent creator who looks just like a white man with a flowing beard and molded men out of sand and made women to serve him using the first man’s rib and now listens to every person’s thoughts and hates mixed fibers? Really?

    Furthermore, your argument that ‘everything is made by something’ seems to overlook that, if applied universally, your god would have to have been made by something, too. And what would have made what made your god? And so forth? Or did your god somehow magically always exist? And if so, why couldn’t something else that is *not* an eternal person, or even consciousness, always have existed? Why does it have to be *your* god, or any god at all? Couldn’t it just as logically be unthinking matter?

    No, really, I’m done. I promise I really believe these keystrokes are wasted. But I press ‘submit’ irregardless.

    Reply

    • Joshua, the argument “everything is made by something” was YOUR argument, not mine. I was utilizing it to show that your position was untenable. I also have said (read the whole thread before replying) that I am not at this point arguing for the existence of God, simply that your arguments are at the least as illogical as those you despise amongst the theists.

      Your dismissiveness is telling. I have not made any theist arguments, I have responded to your “logical” arguments, and your are responding as though YOU have a corner on “undisputable fact” – something you look down on others for.

      On the logical note: no, it couldn’t be “unthinking matter”, using your argument – matter is a phenomena which requires a cause. On the other hand, even in evolutionary theory, there is no “cause” for personality.

      Reply

      • /Every thing/ (not “everything”) has some thing as a cause. The univers, as a “everything” is a set of all things, and isn’t in the same class. If the univers is everything, it cannot by definition be caused.

    • Joshua, I now believe a little less in the atheist cause.

      Irregardless is not a word.

      Ken, personality is a collection of patterns of thinking. Like neurons forming patterns. Kind of like muscle memory. It’s simply a tendency towards one response over another. It’s unique ’cause it’s a combination of how you were raised and pure chaos.

      That’s the cause… I don’t know if it could be tied to evolution, but it’s definitely scientific.

      /<3

      Reply

  14. Here’s a question that seems to be emerging from the discussion so far:

    What is the default position regarding god-belief?

    Should we go along with the beliefs of the majority of humans until that’s proven wrong?

    Should we evaluate a religion’s claims, withholding judgement and belief until we’re fully convinced that their evidence is true?

    Should we accept all supernatural claims until they’re proven false?

    How many supernatural claims must you evaluate and reject before you’re justified in taking the position that all supernatural claims are probably false?

    Reply

    • Posted by dokkou on August 10, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      “How many supernatural claims must you evaluate and reject before you’re justified in taking the position that all supernatural claims are probably false?”

      all of them, I’d say. that’s at least the scientific position to take on that question.

      oh, and my twittername is @dokkou

      Reply

    • Posted by graceisunfair on August 10, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      What would happen if you were to come upon a supernatural claim that honestly seemed to be best explained by supernatural causes?

      This is by no means an indisputably supernatural story, but it’s an example of the “everyday” supernatural-esque phenomena we can either investigate or ignore. A baby girl at my church, just a few days old, had heart problems. The family brought her before the congregation and we prayed for her. A couple days later, she had surgery. It went well. When they took the baby in for a check up a few weeks later, the doctor told the family that, looking at the X-Rays, it didn’t look like she had ever had surgery. Now, I’m no doctor, but I have a couple of friends with a little girl who scratched herself on her face when she was just a couple days old–she’ll probably always have a scar. Infants don’t heal seem to heal so well. Obviously, we could try to explain this story in ways other than the supernatural, but I wanted to offer one story that I know of personally. I could offer others I’ve heard from people I don’t know or have read about, but I imagine they could be dismissed more easily as fabricated. Should we dismiss all such stories as fabrications? Is saying, “I don’t know” always a better response than “This was supernatural”? Doesn’t that rest on an assumption that the natural world is all there is? How is that testable, if it’s also the assumption you have going into a scenario in which it might be tested?

      (If we want to argue about why God does or doesn’t/would or wouldn’t heal everyone, we can do that elsewhere. This is primarily about what would happen if we encounter something that is better explained by the supernatural than by the natural.)

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      • Posted by graceisunfair on August 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

        Oh, and if it weren’t clear, my Twitter name is @graceisunfair. And my real name is Scott. :]

      • I don’t see that claim as “best explained by supernatural causes.” There are any number of natural explanations. You could be lying or misinformed. Whoever told you the story could by lying or misinformed. Maybe the doctor had the wrong x-ray. Maybe they operated on the wrong child. Maybe there was some other mixup. Maybe the doctor misread the x-ray. Maybe he was exaggerating when he said that it looks like she didn’t have surgery and the family latched onto that phrase and decided that they had received a miracle. Or maybe some god/angel/demon/spirit/alien removed her scars using magic or advanced technology. I hope we can both admit that there are a wide range of possible explanations. Your inclination to believe that Yahweh healed her (after the surgery, which is an odd choice) is probably affected by your own religious faith.

        I think claims like this are worth investigating. I’d love to see a report including the x-rays, medical records, 2nd and 3rd opinions, etc. But all I ever seem to hear are **stories** about miracles.

      • This is where my “House” question comes in…

      • I don’t think that’s a miracle. It’s my personal opinion.

        And as for the overall question–believe whatever drives you towards your highest values. If you hate it, throw it away. If you like it, keep it.

        Until we have some solid evidence we can draw conclusions from. Then deal with reality lest you get left in the dust.

        /<3

  15. I’ve written about this very subject recent’y on my own blog in response to come folks who commented on a legal post I wrote! Somehow religion finds its way into everything.

    I don’t believe a god as defined by the major religions of our current time; Chrisianity, Judiasm or Islam to exist because there is no evidence that they do. The burden of proof lies with he who asserts, not with he who denies. If someone asserts that God of Abraham is real, the burden of proof to show he is real is on the person making the assertion. They can certainly choose to believe in him without proof if they wish, this is the nature of faith, but that doesn’t make it so. I choose to believe the Baseball Gods are real, but I can’t prove it.

    If I really wanted to get deeper into this debate, I could make several points about the biblical god and show how what is written in those books is factually incorrect and as such, was not the divinely inspired writings from an omnipotent being. But I choose not to most times as it becomes a tedious and often depressing discussion.

    Reply

    • The burden of proof lies with he who asserts, not with he who denies.

      I’ll agree with you there, but I’ll point out that each one of us is asserting. The naturalist has to then (under your burden of proof), prove that the observable is all there is as well. That is the essense of Lyotard’s attack on the metanarrative.

      We like to think that we, like good cartesians, assemble our worldviews piece by piece. But in reality, they often just spring into place. Science claims to be legitimated by means of Autonomous Reason and devalue all other stories that are not legitimated by reason.

      They demand universal legitimization and claim that all other stories are fables. But in reality, they are just as dependent upon blind assertion not demonstration. How do you use reason to legitimate the sole use of reason?

      “The language game of science desires its statements to be true but does not have the resources to legitimate their truth on its own” – Lyotard

      So, every story (even materialism’s) has this unobtainable burden of proof.

      Reply

  16. I would also suggest asking what I’ll call the “House” question: Do we assume all men are liars?

    Thanks, dokkou, for your answer to that question. I think we should be able to agree on that answer from all sides.

    Reply

    • Yes, I agree. That was a good answer.

      Mine is that it doesn’t matter. If you don’t, you’re trusting and you’ll probably have more friends. If you do, you’re probably distant, but you probably think you’re pretty safe.

      But House is a pretty miserable-looking dude. I don’t want to be a snarky scientist with a bum leg if it makes me miserable.

      Assumptions don’t really matter. Truth does. So I’ll assume whatever I damn well please until something concrete comes along.

      /<3

      Reply

  17. God or no god is a terrific intellectual debate, a philosophical exercise, but what troubles me more is the damage that organizing around the pro-god stance does to society. Yes, churches can be benevolent, charitable organizations that step in where government won’t or can’t…. but they also shamelessly indoctrinate young minds, and create festering, simmering cliques of resentment, cliques that come into greater and greater conflict as the world gets effectively smaller… we can’t afford all the Us vs Them bullshit any more… time to grow up…

    Reply

    • Posted by graceisunfair on August 10, 2010 at 10:00 pm

      All one has to do is turn on the C-SPAN to see that Us vs. Them doesn’t seem to be monopolized by the religious, but rather a very human trait. If you’ll notice, we’re all doing it here–both the theists and the atheists: us, them.

      Reply

      • Totally correct, in fact I was just making that same point elsewhere… finally some agreement! B-)

      • Us vs. Them sucks. I like atheists because very little seems to be logically wrong. There’s just stuff we don’t like, like murder and rape and stuff. And our consciences prevent us from doing those, unlike the Christian point of view where there are consequences beyond that.

        /<3

      • Posted by Dawn on August 17, 2010 at 6:42 pm

        Karanime – if there are no consequences, then why would our conscience prevent us?

      • Aren’t there consequences in life? O.o;

        There’s that shiny jail place. I don’t like the idea of that, though, because it doesn’t catch everyone and imprisons some innocents by mistake.

        The only reason people do “bad” things is because they’re earnestly looking for fulfillment in something. If you lie to a person, you have inner turmoil, no matter how subtle. Continue lying, and you grow desperate for someone to know the real you and like it, but fear stops you from telling the truth. You’re too deep in your lies.

        It takes an overwhelming amount of strength to break through that fear, but notice the intent isn’t malicious. It was caused by the fear.

        I recently saw the movie The Invention of Lying, and the way the Ricky Gervais’ character reacted to people believing him so readily was a perfect example of this. He didn’t have sex with the hot chick he lied to, because it didn’t feel right. He didn’t lie to Jennifer Garner’s character for the same reason.

        No matter what you do, if it’s honestly bad, the consequences (will never be the same! Ahem…) will present themselves in time.

        /<3

      • Posted by Dawn on August 18, 2010 at 7:58 pm

        Which still begs the question, where does conscience come in? Where does morality come from? It reads to me like the only thing stopping people is deciding that the consequences outweigh the benefit. That isn’t conscience. Conscience is based on a moral code (which in most cases comes from their religion and/or *beliefs*).

      • Dawn, I have to disagree that “conscience is based on a moral code.” I don’t think even theology supports that – St Paul says that even nature teaches us certain things about behavior. I think the basics of morality are built into us, not inculcated.

      • Let’s put it this way, Dawn. Killing someone would freak me the hell out. You?

        /<3

  18. My first reaction to @almightygod’s excellent question is to tell stories that reinforce the story that I buy into. But that still assumes the system. So, I’ll try to focus upon what reasons legitimate that story to begin with.
    It boils down to origin, beauty, and ethics. I can’t imagine or make sense of those without God.
    While I realize the logical problems with the unmoved mover argument, this universe had to of come from somewhere, and I cannot answer that question (even within Hawking’s suggestions of the universe having a no-boundry condition) without an appeal to a creator.

    When I look at math, or mountains, or my son I cannot help but to fame it within a story of meaning and beauty, one frames and written and joined in by a creator. Conversely, when I look at violence, povery, and death, I cannot assign them meaning without the same appeal.

    When I ask why is it wrong to kill, or steal, or pain, I can find no reason which aligns with my intuitions in an atheistic framework. The best I can find is – there is no right and wrong, we just think there are. And that is not satisfying. Furthermore, saying that it is what helps the human race propogate is similarly unsatisfying. But, when I frame those same questions in a system that assumes a triune God that created and ordered this universe, I can know why it is wrong to kill and to maim. I know why we have moral worth.

    Materialism is a grammar which only reconizes nouns. It is a vocabulary which is too limited to explain, justify, and give meaning to human existance. Give me a logical, naturalistic account of why you love your husband it’s not enough.

    Reply

    • Thank you for sharing your reasons. They seem to me to be variations on god-of-the-gaps also known as the argument from personal incredulity. You don’t know how to explain a phenomenon, so you say “God did it.”

      Reply

      • Sort of, I went with reasons why the story of atheism is not as satisfactory as the theistic story.

        So rather than say “god did it” I say “a story with god is better than the story without god.”

      • I’ve been studying taoism for a few years now. It is a philosophy of living, a way to a peaceful life. Lao Tzu addresses the basic question we are grappling with ease and eloquence.

        There was something formless and perfect
        before the universe was born.
        It is serene. Empty.
        Solitary. Unchanging.
        Infinite. Eternally present.
        It is the mother of the universe.
        For lack of a better name,
        I call it the Tao.

        It flows through all things,
        inside and outside, and returns
        to the origin of all things.

        The Tao is great.
        The universe is great.
        Earth is great.
        Man is great.
        These are the four great powers.

        Man follows the earth.
        Earth follows the universe.
        The universe follows the Tao.
        The Tao follows only itself.

        Tao Te Ching ~ ch 25

      • When I evaluate the story that Christianity tells, I don’t find it satisfactory at all. A god who requires the spilling of blood to forgive people, that doesn’t make sense to me and I’m not attracted to it. I’ve made several tweets as almightygod that frame that part of the story in a first person, matter of fact way. I think many people agree that it sounds silly and sick to say something like, “I’ll be your friend, but I need to watch something/someone die before I can put up with you.”

        I’ve already responded to the cosmological argument in this thread, so I’ll skip your origins story for now.

        When it comes to beauty, I don’t see the explanatory power of god stories. There’s a strong evolutionary advantage for any organism to have positive, protective, nurturing feelings about their offspring. In their own way, birds probably find their chicks to be very beautiful. There are advantages to being able to judge which fruits, camping locations and mates are most valuable. A sense of beauty could serve an organism well in these areas. It should come as no surprise that a species with language, social organization and abundant food would generalize their sense of beauty to areas that don’t directly affect their survival. Maybe this is just another story that I’m judging subjectively because it fits in with my overall narrative. But note that it doesn’t require the invention of an invisible, supernatural being. It uses reality as its raw ingredients.

        Your ethics story, or the Moral Argument, used to be one of my favorite evidences. I became familiar with this line of reasoning through the work of C.S. Lewis and I preached on it, but now I see several problems with it.

        a. Theists talk about an objective moral standard, but when I ask them to articulate it, I’m usually met with silence or worse, they say that the Bible is this standard. So, if you know what the objective standard for morality is, please explain it and tell me how to apply it to various situations. If it’s objective and a god has written it in our hearts, we should find that most humans can agree on it.

        b. As I said before, I see this as a god-of-the-gaps argument. You don’t know of a natural explanation for human ethics, therefore “god did it” or “the god story is most satisfying.” But even if there were no natural explanation (see below), that wouldn’t make your particular supernatural explanation true by default.

        c. I think there are many possible natural explanations/foundations for ethics/morality. You said, “When I ask why is it wrong to kill, or steal, or pain, I can find no reason which aligns with my intuitions in an atheistic framework.” So if you found out that Jesus and God never existed, you’d have no reason to refrain from murder and theft? I really doubt it, Henry. Isn’t the ethic of reciprocity enough? I know that other humans feel pain and that it sucks when I feel pain. That sense of empathy is enough for me to refrain from causing pain to others. We don’t need a god to tell us that all humans have value. Our humanity tells us that.

        d. I find the god story to be an unsatisfying explanation for ethics because of the Euthyphro dilemma. What is the real source of this moral standard? Is it god’s fiat? Or is he only reflecting a higher standard? I don’t think the addition of a god layer gets us any closer to understanding ethics.

        e. An examination of nature shows that ethics is not a uniquely human endeavor. Many social species have their methods for promoting fairness. Individuals who harm the group or the innocent are often ejected from social groups. A few examples of altruistic behavior in animals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals

      • Posted by graceisunfair on August 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm

        C. One of the biggest problems I have with ethics within an evolutionary framework is that it is primarily an ethic of selfishness (with self often, but not always, encompassing an animal’s young, since this is the way that the “self” continues to live on past death). It is very frequently more evolutionarily advantageous to hurt and kill others than to be concerned about their well-being. However, I think that most (or all) of us here would agree that killing others just because it would be advantageous to us (and, assumedly, we can get away with it) is not so much an ethic, but its antithesis. We would put those people in jail and call them sociopaths. Evolution doesn’t provide a satisfactory ethical framework for me.

      • graceisunfair,
        Look to nature. Among social species it seems that living at peace with one’s troop/colony mates is the norm. If an organism flourishes in an environment of cooperation (as ants, bats, chimps and humans do) then wanton killing is not a good survival strategy. But members of a neighboring group may not be treated as nicely. Sound familiar? Humans are only recently beginning to include all members of our species in our in-group. We still have a long way to go. The history and current state of ethics is exactly what I would expect to see if human morality evolved from and expanded upon the social instincts of our ancestors. I don’t see the need to invoke magic to explain it.

      • Is that all ethics is? Survival strategy? If so, then things that go against ethical norms but don’t result in a greater risk of the species dying (or the person) are ok.

        Why is lying to your spouse about cheating on him wrong if it does not amount to a threatened life?

        I don’t think evolutionary ethics can answer that beyond saying it goes against cultural norms.

      • RE Euthyphro:

        You have a point there, AMG. It is a paradox of sorts. I wonder if it is a bad question, though, or at least one that misses the point. I ultimately think they are one and the same. God is good and the standard for good at the same time.

        But it seems that each of our respective stories has a problem with the other’s grounding of ethics. And it seems that within my story, your problem with mine fades away. I’m not a participant of your story, so I can’t say the same for you.

        Where does that leave us?

      • RE AMG 1st Reply:

        For outsiders, the need for the death of Jesus is perplexing, I’ll agree to that. Once you assume the system, it makes sense.

        Again, if beauty, ethics, etc. are just evolutionary advantages (EA), then I can see no reason for someone not to buck the instincts.

        If ethics are just EA and cultural norms and not grounded in something outside myself and my culture, then I would feel fine lying, stealing, cheating, and perhaps killing. Rand would be right and I would be an Objectivist. I have not seen a better Atheist Ethical Framework than Rand’s. The strong survive, and sometimes need the help of others to do so.

        Scott (graceisunfair) and I (and others) could talk all day about how our ethics proceeds from God’s triune nature. A triune God is fundamentally self-loving and from a desire to share that love outside itself, created the world. He set us up to govern, protect, and tend the earth like a garden and to love Her back. Ethics are the particulars of those general things. We see a shifting ethics in the Bible because God incarnated His message to different people at different times in different situations. Our ethical principle, summed up, is to love God and others as we love ourselves.

        I reject the God-of-the-Gaps attack. It is a God-as-the-fabric reasoning. There are not phenomena that my paradigm can’t explain so I just say “god must be actively rewinding the universe” or anything like that. I am explaining how my internally coherent story works. If my reasoning is a G-o-t-G, then by that same standard, your story of naturalistic materialism governed by naturalist evolution relies upon an Evolution of the Gaps magic glue to keep it all together.

        I think that responded to all of your primary points. Sorry for the 10 comments within 10 minutes thing I have going on. I’m trying to keep all my replies contextual.

      • Henry,
        Who said that ethics is only survival strategy? I don’t think I did. I did mention evolution as an explanation for the development of behavior we might think of as ethical or proto-ethical among humans and other animals. But I think humans have taken it further through the use of empathy, planning and reason. We also have language, culture, custom and, perhaps most relevant to this discussion, laws and courts.

        I also mentioned empathy as a factor in our views of the value of human life and happiness.

      • AMG,

        You might not have (I keep loosing my place in all of this) if so, sorry. But my larger point still stands. If all of this is contingent, then why ethics? Laws are in fact arbitrary. It does not really matter if the speed limit is X here or X there. It is just stuff we’ve agree to do. If I get away with speeding – no harm done. I’m getting the same thing with an non-objective ethics. We all agree upon not killing, and not killing may sometimes jive with some evolutionary instinct, but if I get away with it, no harm done.

      • Even if you get away with killing someone, there is harm done. The person killed and their loved ones are certainly harmed. A humanistic ethic that finds value in all humans (because of empathy) will aim to reduce harm to others.

  19. I’ll look at the other replies soon.

    and my twitter name is @thepomoxian

    Reply

  20. […] over at Almighty God, asks for a serious discussion concerning why people do or do not believe in a God(s).  There’s been some good discussion over there, some discussion I hope to join in soon.  […]

    Reply

  21. There seems to be some inconsistency of principle here. Men should act according to what nature\evolution has provided them with, except the capacity and bent toward belief in a higher power? Can you explain why nature is reason for action but not faith?

    Reply

    • Who said that “Men should act according to what nature\evolution has provided them with”? I certainly don’t think that. I brought up the evolution of morality because theists say that there’s no natural explanation for human morality, therefore goddidit. I think our moral sense has an evolutionary history, but we are now able to use reason to build upon and apply our moral principles.

      Reply

    • There are many times when it’s in our best interest (as determined by reason and planning) to resist the instincts that evolution has given us. For example, our appetites evolved during a time when sugar and fat were scarce and valuable, so evolution gave us an urge to get all we can when they’re available. People who live in a time and place where sugar and fat are abundant will ruin their health if they follow their instincts and gobble up everything they can.

      Again, my point is not to say that we should blindly follow the morality instincts that evolution has equipped us with. But those instincts are a big part of the explanation for human ethical choices. When combined with reason and planning, we have a good start to understanding ethics. There’s no need for magic.

      Reply

      • To quote renowned thinker Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. 🙂 I’m referring to the word “magic”. As you are using it, I don’t believe in “magic” either. If God exists, his actions are not magic, they are natural, and so are the results of those actions – and they are in accord with the general workings of the universe. To call faith magic is the same as to call instincts magic, if it is the result of a biological imperative.

        To address the example given: because one should reduce sugars even though their appetite craves them, is not the same as saying that faith is a misguided or wrong-headed desire.The correlation here would be between faith and hunger, not faith and sugar. You wouldn’t tell someone that hunger was simply a remnant of the evolutionary process, and therefore can be abandoned. I agree that faith can be taken too far – for example, those who refuse to go to doctors – but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.

      • I’m not calling faith magic. I’m calling the supernatural magic. If that word bothers you, just replace it with “supernatural” when reading my comments.

      • I can make the replacement and say the same thing – there is no “supernatural”. Supernatural is just a word for that which happens so rarely in nature that it is not considered a normal occurrence. Even in the case of the healed infant above, there are plenty of non-theists who believe that the body has everything within it that it needs to heal itself, but we know from “science” that it does not typically do so. For it to do so rarely doesn’t mean that to do so is supernatural. What I am proposing is that just because something is natural does not mean that therefore it’s cause is not God. I am saying that, if God does indeed exist, that what he does is within nature, and that he does not act outside of nature.

      • Damn, good argument against magic/supernatural, Ken.

        If God’s there, he’s frequent, and so, normal. No magic involved.

        I like that you’re specifically stating these are counters to counters. You never attempt to give solid arguments for God (’cause like I said, it would be stupid to try–no one likes infallibles), only incredibly solid counters to the dumb things we atheists sometimes come up with.

        Good show.

        /<3

  22. Posted by Joshua on August 11, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    I think your attempt to change the metaphor, Ken, is misguided. You compare faith (in a theist sense, correct?) to hunger, implying that faith is an unavoidable, necessary mechanism for human survival. But lots of people survive quite successfully without the faith you refer to. So saying that faith is more like hunger than sugar in the metaphor is less accurate in my thinking than @almightygod’s original concept. Faith is ignored, abandoned, or moderated by many once they realize how unnecessary and harmful it can be, just as sugar is. Hunger is not.

    To get back to your original question about why faith should not be a reason for action, though, I have what I believe to be an answer. Any type of faith, be it theist or otherwise, can be based on mythology, misinformation, bias, compromised or otherwise flawed perception, and so forth. But when it is theist faith, it is considered virtuous and to be accepted without question, even in the face of facts that contradict the theist’s belief system. As a result, action based on faith alone can be ineffective or even significantly harmful. Examples abound. Teen pregnancy, climate change, and sexual orientation are current public policy debates for which many faithful want theist doctrines to dictate the outcomes. And the faithful in these situations prefer what their religious text says over any and all contradictory facts. As a result, people are harmed.

    Reply

  23. Joshua, that whole line of reasoning is the result of your post – the idea that faith is the result of a biological imperative was presented by you, not me. If so, it is on par with other biological imperatives, not a subset of a biological imperative. Also, faith is never wholly abandoned – how many of the “facts” that your atheism is based upon have you personally observed? If there are ANY that you have not personally observed – not to mention properly understood – that you are operating on faith. I am not using the term in the theist sense strictly, if there be such a thing. I have consistently sought to interact here on broad rather than narrow definitions.

    This impacts your second paragraph as well. Unless you have firsthand, objective data regarding the above sample issues, you are also working from a “faith” standpoint when you approach them. Let’s take teen pregnancy. The “facts” are: if teens don’t screw until they get married, there won’t be teen pregnancies. Promoting abstinence helps to reduce the number of teens who practice “unprotected sex” better than contraceptive promotion does. Those who pretend these aren’t the facts are operating on “faith”, not science. Let’s take climate change: emails surfaced that proved that many of the “facts” behind climate change (much like overpopulation in the last generation) were constructs, not science. The climate-change faithful stuck to their guns and looked for ways to overcome the “facts”.

    The point I’m making here and throughout these posts is that, theist or non-theist, we’re actually operating on the same ground, and really approaching things the same way, the only way people can: subjectively. None of us has all the facts, and especially none of us personally has all the facts. No one has the rational high-ground. We are all operating, to whatever degree, on “faith”

    Reply

      • Posted by Joshua on August 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

        Awesome link, Eric. Thanks.

      • Um, no, it isn’t. If you’ll read both the link you sent and my post, you’ll notice that the Fallacy of Gray operates when a person treats all of the shades as a single shade. It does not mean treating all the shades as though they were shades of the same color. That is what I have done here. I have specifically admitted the degrees; however, they are still all “gray” – faith.

      • Posted by Joshua on August 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm

        LOL I can’t wait to see Eric’s comment on this. Ken… are you trying to be ironic?

      • This link, found within the previous: http://lesswrong.com/lw/ic/the_virtue_of_narrowness/ is a better one for the point you are trying to make, which I now understand better. What you want is a way to distinguish your kind of faith (faith based on scientific probability) with what you perceive to be my kind of faith (faith based on mystical nonsense). What I’m saying is that you need to stop pretending that you have objective truth, rather than some kind of faith. Until we get there, I’m not certain that we can have a productive dialog.

      • Posted by Eric on August 13, 2010 at 3:09 am

        Thanks Joshua. I highly recommend looking through other stuff on that blog – there’s a really good group of Sequences which are extremely well done.

        Ken, I’m not sure if you were talking to Joshua or me, but I haven’t “pretend[ed] to have objective truth,” since this was my first comment on this post. I haven’t read the entire discussion to know if Joshua has or not, but if I had to guess based on past discussions of this nature, I’d venture a guess that no one actually claimed that here. I’ve never actually seen someone on the one side of this (rather typical) discussion claim that they have 100% certainty, yet someone invariably feels the need to point out that no one has 100% certainty, therefore “everyone uses faith” – as if that were actually relevant.

        It makes no sense to me to use the word “faith” when talking about any beliefs that have less than 100% certainty, since all beliefs automatically fall under that category. Do I have “faith” that the sun will rise tomorrow? It’s possible it won’t, but seeing as we can predict to 10 or more decimal places the exact time of the sunrise for a particular location, that seems like a rather silly use of the word faith. So in a way, yes – I’m talking about the virtue of narrowness. You’re taking a word which has, in the past, been used as a justification for beliefs which don’t have enough evidence to otherwise justify them, and using it to describe all beliefs. It’s confusing and unnecessary.

        But really, it’s the fallacy of gray that’s the problem. What’s the point of saying that all beliefs require faith? What does it actually achieve? Obviously it doesn’t change reality to redefine a word – reality is exactly how it was when that word was used differently. And the only new insight gained by the redefinition is that no beliefs have 100% certainty – but as I mentioned, I haven’t seen anyone make that claim, and besides, there are much better ways to make that point than a confusing redefinition. So why make the redefinition?

        It only serves to confuse the prior usage of faith (belief in that which does not have evidence, to paraphrase the Bible) with a new usage that applies to all beliefs. You’re trying to sneak in connotations. You’re trying to equivocate between beliefs which are so uncertain they shouldn’t be believed, and truths which are uncertain but to a much smaller degree.

        So I’ve admitted that there’s no belief which has 100% certainty. Can we move on to productive dialog about which propositions have enough evidential support to warrant belief? That would be a lot more productive than this word crap.

    • Posted by Clunky on August 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm

      http://www.parentdish.com/2010/01/28/abstinence-education-to-blame-for-rise-in-teen-pregnancy-rates/
      “Abstinence Education to Blame for Rise in Teen Pregnancy Rates, Report Finds”
      Here’s the thing about people: they’re gonna get it on. And if you teach them about birth control, maybe they’ll use it. If you don’t teach them about it, they won’t use it.
      Abstinence education is a nice idea, and yes, if they abstain it works 100%, but obviously the majority aren’t going to abstain.
      Those are your facts.

      Reply

      • Man, the nonkilling-only policy does not work. People are just gonna kill other people. We should then teach them to murder others in a way that does not harm themselves.

        But, to be un-snarky (which kinda occasioned this deluge of comments), I think your argument does have some merit. Having sex is certainly of a different character than killing.

        But my story of Triune Theism says that sex is a good and glorious thing, within the right context. Furthermore, it says that sex outside of the right context is damaging to the people involved. The best articulation of this is Rob Bell’s Sex God.

        But the wider issue is how should governments (esp. ours) deal with sex education. The government’s primary concern is the maintenance of itself. Accordingly, it should promote whatever sexual ethic it thinks will best promote its own health.

      • Posted by Eric on August 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

        Reply to Henry (can’t seem to reply directly to it for some reason… too deeply nested?)

        If teaching people to murder a specific way actually decreased the total number of murders compared with a policy that prohibited killing outright, then I would advocate it. Similarly, I advocate safe-sex education because it actually decreases the number of teen pregnancies.

      • “Man, the nonkilling-only policy does not work. People are just gonna kill other people. We should then teach them to murder others in a way that does not harm themselves.”

        -coughwarcough-

        Agh, sorry. Had something caught in my throat. 🙂

        /<3

    • Posted by Joshua on August 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm

      Ken, I’m a little puzzled. I’ve gone back into my prior posts to try to determine where you see me stating that I think that 1) faith is a biological imperative or that 2) all forms of faith should be abandoned. I certainly didn’t intend to say such things, and I don’t see them in the text I wrote. I *do* see @almightygod state that evolutionary theory can explain the emergence of ethics and morality, which I agree with. In fact, I don’t see anyone equate faith with a biological imperative until you explicitly compared it to hunger. Clearly, you believe theist faith to be a biological imperative, but I never said such a thing.

      What I did say, however, is that *theist* faith hurts people because it leads to decision making based upon guesses, lies, imagination, and flawed information. Certainly, all forms of information that one has not personally observed can be said to have been taken ‘on faith.’ But unlike theist belief, information born of the personal experience of people living on earth can be verified or debunked. Theist beliefs, by their very design, can never be verified or disproven.

      And I honestly do disagree with you regarding where we stand. I am arguing that it is more reasonable to assume that something doesn’t exist if there’s no evidence of its existence. When you suggest that atheism should be supported by facts, you seem to be arguing that it is more reasonable to assume something DOES exist when there’s no evidence to disprove that. To me, that’s just bizarre.

      You might say that, according to my logic, because I have not personally verified that the earth revolves around the sun I should therefore not believe it. But I *can* verify it by referring to research, talking to living people, and utilizing instruments that provide me with first-hand proof. Using this methodology, non-theist faith seems reasonable in many contexts while theist faith cannot be supported because the existence of a god can ever be validated.

      I would say, however, that according to your argument, theists should believe in 900ft-tall unicorns from the 17th dimension because there is no evidence that they do not exist. In fact, every idea that they have not personally verified as untrue and especially those which they cannot ever personally verify, they should accept as unassailable truth. Since you are trying to approach your argument broadly, your logical methodology would mean that all unverifiably false information is to be accepted as fact. To me, that seems not only unreasonable, but irrational and dangerous.

      Ghosts, magic, forest nymphs, Santa Claus. You see what I’m saying, right? Theists clearly do not believe every single unverifiably false idea presented to them, but they make an exception with regard to theism and the things their specific doctrines tell them. And just as it would if they accepted *every* unverifiably false idea as true, theist beliefs lead them to make harmful decisions. From my perspective, an all-powerful creator is as fanciful an idea as Santa Claus. Delightful, mysterious, magical, unlikely, unable to be proven as extant, but also impossible to disprove.

      So let me ask you: Why is it reasonable for people to believe in things that can never be verified as true just because they can never be verified as false? And why, in light of the fact that people clearly do *not* believe every unverifiably false idea they are exposed to, should people make an exception with regard to a creation story? Why is that one virtuous, but so many others are ignored? Are there other examples of things that cannot be proven true or false that you can think of that we accept, but can never know?

      Reply

      • Here’s #1: “In fact, even science has shown that their brains, at a cellular level, process mythology associated with their god the same as it processes facts such as the blueness of sky.” If, as you assert here, science (arguably the “scriptures” of the materialist) shows that faith is a biological development, then it is on par with hunger, sex, left-handedness, and gayness as a feature of humanity which requires one to act in some way.

        So, that being established, we’ll move on. At which point, then, in your thinking process will you declare macro-evolution a point of faith rather than science? You can’t observe it, you can’t speak to anyone who has, and yet much of your science is based on the assumptions it provides. It is essentially an origin myth like all the others, another one which the “facts” can be made to fit into the established framework, with the occasional tweak.

        To claim, as you certainly are here, that theist believe something precisely BECAUSE it can’t be verified, is an obvious straw man and really doesn’t deserve a response, and certainly doesn’t follow from any of the arguments I have made. As to the creation story in this regard, there are plenty of people who do not believe in a 6 day literal creation story, but a theistic literary story, which is perfectly capable of encompassing some form of evolutionary theory. And, as I have stated previously, even if it were a 6 day creation, it would not be outside the realm of the natural. It would require no more magic than an unobservable and unexplainable big bang does.

        As to the other question, it follows from your statement as well. It was ” Men should act according to what nature\evolution has provided them with, except the capacity and bent toward belief in a higher power? Can you explain why nature is reason for action but not faith?” For example, one feels a desire to eat, so he should eat. He has the desire to copulate, so he should copulate. He has the desire to worship, so he should – think better of it and stifle it, of course! What reasonable thinking person would do anything else?!? The question had nothing to do with using nature or faith as a basis for actionS, but action – acting upon the specific impulse, the biological imperatives.

      • Oh, Joshua. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Haven’t you ever seen The Boondocks?

        No one’s saying that your unicorns are real because you can’t disprove them. I agree, the burden of proof is on the Christians. But again, it doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t believe they’re real because we can’t disprove them. But we also shouldn’t completely discard them, because no one even knows what the 17th dimension is yet. Only when someone discovers it, and searches the entirety of that dimension can we know if there really are 900ft-tall unicorns.

        Ditto with God. He’s not necessarily real, but we can’t rule Him out until we search, well… everywhere.

        And we kinda can’t do that yet.

        /<3

      • Also, Ken, I agree we have an urge to worship and revere. But the God bit is kinda illogical. We weren’t born knowing God. A lot of us grew up with Him, or learned about Him.

        We have an urge to worship, but why not be a hippie tree-hugger and just love nature for nature? Worship what we see instead of something that might have created what we see.

        I like me, but I don’t worship my parents. I worship myself. This is why even if there is an almighty God, I don’t believe he deserves my undying love. Respect, sure. But I’m not going to ruin myself for Him. I am unique and I am myself. Me first, then my creators, whether that means just my parents, or God Himself.

        /<3

      • Posted by Eric on August 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

        Karanime:

        Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

        False. Absence of evidence is not PROOF of absence, but it is most certainly evidence of absence. If the evidence is at all relevant to your hypothesis, it can only affect it one way – increase or decrease the likelihood of the hypothesis, not both – and the absence of that evidence MUST do the opposite. Expected evidence is a conserved quantity.

        Also, as far as “we can’t rule him out til we know everything” – technically true, but we have absolutely no reason to consider him over any other hypothesis without specific evidence directing us to. Otherwise we’re privileging the hypothesis.

      • Posted by Dawn on August 17, 2010 at 8:07 pm

        Joshua,

        You said, “*theist* faith hurts people because it leads to decision making based upon guesses, lies, imagination, and flawed information.”

        Not usually. Not any more than YOUR faith hurts people because of the basis of YOUR decisions. Most people with a theist faith are LESS likely to hurt people through their decisions, in my experience.

        You further said, “You might say that, according to my logic, because I have not personally verified that the earth revolves around the sun I should therefore not believe it. But I *can* verify it by referring to research, talking to living people, and utilizing instruments that provide me with first-hand proof.”

        Ah, but the thing is, you *can’t*. It would *look* the same from your point of view regardless of whether the earth is going around the sun or if the whole universe is going around the earth (with the remaining planets orbiting our sun). The only way you can prove or disprove it is by getting *outside* the *galaxy*. When you’ve done that, I’ll consider your “verification” as valid.

        You keep saying, “And just as it would if they accepted *every* unverifiably false idea as true, theist beliefs lead them to make harmful decisions.”

        Please give an example of what you mean by this. I can’t think of a “harmful decision” made by any theist I know offhand; and certainly no more “bad decisions” than any other *human* regardless of belief system.

        You said, “Why is it reasonable for people to believe in things that can never be verified as true just because they can never be verified as false?”

        Do you believe in evolution? or the “big bang” theory? Why? THEY CAN NEVER BE VERIFIED AS TRUE. I guess you’re just as unreasonable, in your own way.

      • Posted by Eric on August 17, 2010 at 8:24 pm

        Ken,
        Ah, but the thing is, you *can’t*. It would *look* the same from your point of view regardless of whether the earth is going around the sun or if the whole universe is going around the earth (with the remaining planets orbiting our sun).
        The equations governing gravity would be significantly differently, actually, and for most theories which include the sun going around the earth we would see noticeable differences in everyday life if those equations happened to describe our universe. It is, of course, possible that the equations are truly so convoluted as to allow for the sun to go around the earth while everything on earth looks exactly as it does today. But the theory that proposes the convoluted equations would require additional postulates which raise the complexity of it to a point far above the current theory of gravity, which rules it out by Occam’s razor.

        Re: evolution and the big bang, I’m not sure what you mean when you say they can’t be verified as true. The theory of the big bang produced one of the most accurate scientific predictions of all time in the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the math behind the theory of evolution consistently produces predictions about allele frequency in populations that are later verified in the field. Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say they can’t be verified?

      • Posted by Eric on August 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm

        Apologies Dawn, your icon was green like Ken’s and I assumed that was from him. Meant to direct that at you.

        And while I’m issuing corrections, I intended to say “…would be significantly different.” Oops.

      • Posted by Dawn on August 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm

        Joshua,

        “The equations governing gravity” would be different how? It would make more sense, *logically*, for the earth to be stationary, since everything *I* have ever seen that rotates does NOT pull things to itself but rather throws them off.

        Re: The Big Bang – I would love to see you repeat it. Even on a small scale. Scientifically, if something can be proven, it can be repeated, right? So they SHOULD be able to do a small bang that becomes a planet and begins to produce life, eventually becoming human. Right? But they *can’t*.

        Re: evolution – things are NOT getting better or more complex. (If evolution is true, why do mothers still only have two hands?) We cannot make ourselves different physically by *thinking* about it (even consciously, much less subconsciously). And then there’s irreducible complexity.

      • Posted by Eric on August 17, 2010 at 11:33 pm

        Dawn,
        “The equations governing gravity” would be different how?
        Currently the equation for gravity is extremely general, in that it has two different terms for masses but doesn’t distinguish which particular masses they are – it can apply to any two masses in the entire universe. If you apply that equation to the earth and the sun, you get the conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun, not the opposite. In order to come up with an equation governing the universe which resulted in the sun going around the earth, there would have to be exceptions to the rule and the equation would become huge. Copernicus figured this out from the evidence in the early 1500’s.

        Your “logical” explanation of why it makes more sense for the earth to be stationary is a good explanation of how people thought – 500 years ago. Since then we’ve figured out a lot more about how the universe works. If you need more information on where Newton’s theory of gravitation was derived from or about Copernicus’ work, I would suggest Wikipedia – it’s a good primer, and should have good links to other works, and details much of the evidence that led the scientists of the time to the conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun.

        Re: The big bang – I think you’re mistaken on how science works. It sounds like you heard somewhere that in science, experimental results must be repeatable, and mistook that to mean that if science has provided evidence of the big bang through experiments, that means that the big bang itself must be repeatable. I’m not sure how to most clearly express what science is, but I’ll try this:

        Science came about because when people previously tried to figure out how the world worked, they often came up with answers that agreed with their previous inclinations but were flat-out wrong, even if they thought they were being fair about their tests. So humans came up with a convention (that is, an agreed-upon set of rules) for how to do experiments. To stop people from proposing that their pet theories were true without any evidence, they said that a theory must produce observable results – that is, you should expect the results to say something different than whatever the next best explanation is. To stop people from declaring their experiment a success no matter what happens, they said that the theory must be falsifiable – that is, there must be some kind of result that would make you say that your theory is false, and you have to say what that result is ahead of time before you do the experiment. And to stop people from (knowingly or unknowingly) tilting their experiments in their favor, they said that results must be repeatable – that if someone else who thinks your theory is false does the experiment, they had better get the same results as you.

        So – to bring this back to the big bang. Someone theorized that the universe started from a big bang. They set out some observable results – the microwave background radiation should be such-and-such. They came up with a way to falsify their theory – if the big bang is wrong, the microwave background radiation will look differently, and gave some parameters of how far off they could be while still considering their theory correct. (Incidentally, the error bars, as they’re called, are miniscule for this experiment. Quite possibly the smallest in any experiment done ever.) And they made the experiment repeatable – theoretically, you could go out yourself and measure this background radiation with the right tools, and you could check what result they got and see if you get the same thing.

        And then, after all that, they did the experiment – and the results they got were IDENTICAL(link to a Wikipedia picture) to what they predicted. And that is why the scientific method has confirmed that the big bang occurred.

        It’s not really important, but if we were able to recreate the big bang *with identical initial conditions* (that’s the most important part, and the most difficult), then yes, theoretically planet formation would occur, a planet like earth would come to be, simple RNA replicators would come to be, and they would eventually evolve into human life. Also, this would take billions of years, just like the first time around.

        Re: evolution – things are NOT getting better or more complex.
        Like I said, there are biologists out in the field observing allele frequency out in the field, and they see the changes predicted by evolution. If mothers spontaneously evolved a third hand, that would actually be extremely strong evidence against evolution, because the theory predicts that things occur in small increments, not in big jumps like third hands.

        And evolution doesn’t predict that someone can make themselves physically different by thinking about it – I think this idea stems from a strong misunderstanding of evolution. To be fair, that’s understandable – even the scientists working in the field of biology had a lot of trouble thinking about evolution the right way until the ’70’s, and they were coming up with similarly wrong predictions about what the theory entailed because of it. If you want, I’ll try to explain some of how evolution works and some of the predictions it actually makes (rather than the fake predictions some people say it should make, but it actually doesn’t).

        -eric

    • Posted by Joshua on August 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm

      And while I’m at it: can you also respond to this question. Why is it reasonable to take action based on theist faith – faith that can never be proven as true or false – when facts are available that contradict it? Why are verifiable facts of lesser value when ideas that can never be proven or disproven contradict them?

      Reply

      • You’re arguing against Christianity itself. It’s kind of cute.

        Ken is a person, not the entire religion. If you want answers from someone who might actually have them, open this dialogue to the Christian population, not just Ken.

        /<3

      • Posted by Dawn on August 17, 2010 at 7:57 pm

        *Are* there facts that contradict it? So far I’ve not seen any. I’ve seen *theories* that do.

      • Dawn, I say that’s not relevant.

        It’s the same with evolution, really. I haven’t seen any facts that couldn’t be explained in a million other ways than God. The Christian-explanations are also only *theories*.

        /<3

      • Posted by Dawn on August 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        Yes, both creation and evolution are *THEORIES*. Unprovable. Period. Believers in BOTH are using faith.

      • Evolution can be eventually provable. Theories are usually based on facts. In Christianity, it’s often that the belief in God comes first, and things that happen are attributed to His hand. In science, the facts float around, and some smart dude sees a pattern and speaks up. The smart dude can be proven wrong, mostly by another fact being presented that contradicts the theory. So scrap it and start over.

        The Christians, on the other hand, if presented with another fact, ya’ll can just turn around and say, “We screwed up, but God still did it.” You don’t, which is stupid, but also not the point.

        That’s not very compelling.

        /<3

    • Posted by Dave on August 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Ken, I must have missed something. Please direct me to where Joshua states that faith is a biological imperative.

      Reply

      • Joshua doesn’t. Ken did.

        The idea is that if you mistrusted everything you saw, you couldn’t function. When you sit in a chair, you have faith that it will hold your weight.

        We theorize and postulate so much that, I agree with Ken, we just can’t function without some kind of faith in an idea first. Gravity is still a theory, but we have faith that if we jump off a building, we will go splat, so we don’t jump.

        That’s all he was trying to say.

        /<3

      • Posted by Dave on August 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm

        @Karanime :

        Then Ken lied:

        “Posted by Ken O’Shaughnessy on August 11, 2010 at 9:10 pm
        Joshua, that whole line of reasoning is the result of your post – the idea that faith is the result of a biological imperative was presented by you, not me. ”

        Gravity is a fact, no faith or belief needed. It works regardless of belief or faith. How gravity works is a theory. It is not faith that keeps people from jumping off buildings, rather it is the fact that one will fall.

        What would take faith is jumping off of a building and believing that one’s god would keep one from falling because one asked said god to not let one fall.

      • Joshua stated that science shows that belief in the mystical is the result of a particular brain pattern. See the post I wrote last night…

      • Er, Ken thing aside (he addressed it), refining it further, faith is the “knowing” that one will fall.

        In fact, faith is “knowing” anything at all, technically. You can’t KNOW you’ll fall off a building unless you try it. We won’t try it because we have faith that we will fall.

        Although, refining it that far is a little silly, and while Ken is still technically right, it’s a pretty insignificant thing to be right about.

        But consider that we don’t think twice about the idea that jumping off a building will cause us to fall to our deaths. Neither do Christians think twice about their God, I don’t think.

        /<3

    • Posted by Joshua on August 17, 2010 at 7:01 am

      Please don’t dismiss as a straw-man my challenge to something you said on August 10 at 2:09pm: “your ‘evidence’ for his non-existence is no stronger that [sic] the evidence for his existence.”

      On its face, I can understand why you’d say that even though there’s absolutely no evidence for the existence of a god other than some creative thought exercises, that it might exist. That, I can understand. Hey, you can’t prove it exists, but there’s still a chance, right? Even I agree with you on that – and as fond as you are of quoting me, I’m surprised you haven’t pointed that out sooner.

      But in your statement above, you go the extra mile to suggest that the notion that a creator exists is somehow made reasonable by a lack of evidence of its non-existence.

      So please, just help me out. How does an inability to prove that something doesn’t exist make more rational the idea that it does? Especially in light of an inability to prove that it exists? Because in my day-to-day world, if I get an idea about something but have no evidence that it’s real, I stop there. I don’t live my life as though it exists if I determine that I can’t prove that my idea is false. In fact, if I did proceed as though something were real even though there was no evidence that it was while justifying my actions by saying there was no proof it wasn’t, you yourself would probably send me to an asylum. But you have made the argument that such an approach is reasonable.

      So why is that reasonable? And since I’ve shown that my question is not a straw-man, but actually a direct reference to something you brought up to defend the notion of a god, can you also indicate some areas in life where we might apply this methodology to non-theist belief/action?

      (I’ll address your other issues in a separate post. You’re kindof going all over the place – conflating, misattributing, contradicting yourself, and so forth – and I’d rather focus on one thing at a time.)

      Reply

      • The reason I dismissed it as a straw man is because it is one. I don’t go the extra mile in that statement to state (nor have I intimated anywhere else) that having no evidence actually makes something more rational. Nor have I actually argued for the existence of God. I have specifically stated that the point to my arguments here so far was to prove that atheists have no intellectual superiority over theists. That fact that you keep mis-reading my posts and reading things into both my posts and yours seems to prove that point. The fact that you dismiss an entire human history of theist arguments and experience without anything more than scorn (refusing to entertain that any of the ideas deserve any kind of response or discussion) makes you an unworthy debate opponent. If you’d like to continue our discussion, please read the posts and respond to what is actually written. I’m not trying to sound mean or superior; it’s just a waste of time repeating myself.

      • Posted by Joshua on August 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

        Ken, you say we’re on equal footing w/re: theist belief. Fine. But you said to Eric that, “your ‘evidence’ for his non-existence is no stronger that [sic] the evidence for his existence.” Is that *not* at least a basis for your argument? Later, you suggested that I should have facts to support atheism, which implies the same point.

        Perhaps I’m just jumping ahead of you on the logical path? It just confuses me to see you write, as a defense for theism, that the lack of evidence that theism is false puts atheists and theists on equal ground. Because, as I’ve said twice now, following that argument to its logical conclusion means you must defend the notion that a lack of evidence that something doesn’t exist makes it reasonable to believe in it.

        I realize I’m an unworthy debate opponent. So let’s not debate. Educate me. Explain how one can say that theists and atheists are on equal ground without following your above-quoted statement to the logical conclusion I take it to. Instruct me on what the evidence argument you have twice made actually means, not what I’ve read into it.

      • I happened to come across this article just as I was opening the email with your reply – it’s worth perusing: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pete-enns-phd/atheists-are-believers-to_b_681169.html

        The reason I insist that you have evidence for your claims is that your entire system is based on you having firm, scientifically verified evidence. If you are going to insist that is the only way things can be true, your proposals and beliefs must meet that standard. The point I am making is that much of “science” is based on either pre- or post- suppositions, rather than hard, unassailable facts. Virtually all of these facts can be fit into either of our presuppositional frameworks and make sense. The difference between us is that I admit my presupposition (God Exists), and you deny having any.

        Are we on the same page here, or am I missing something? I want to make sure I’m understanding your position correctly.

      • Posted by Eric on August 17, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        Ken, not all presuppositions are equal. If you’re trying to explain a light in the sky, presupposing an alien race who has the ability to travel faster than light but wants to remain hidden to us (but is somehow unable to hide its lights from us) is not equally reasonable as presupposing a plane with a light. The facts can fit both explanations, but that doesn’t make them equal.

        Nor is the idea “God exists” anywhere close to being as simple as is implied by its brevity – the label “God” in that phrase would need to be expanded out to easily a few thousand words to accurately pin down what you meant by it.

        Saying that virtually all facts “can” fit into either framework is misleading. That’s like talking about the sun rising tomorrow, and talking about winning the lottery, and saying “there’s a chance that both of these will happen.” Sure, there’s a chance, but they’re wildly different chances. There are an infinite number of theories which you can fit the facts into. The proper way to interpret facts is not to start from a theory and see if the facts can fit (how did you choose that theory out of the infinite ones anyways?), but to start from the facts and determine if each fact is more or less likely to be present given that one hypothesis is true or that the other is, and then correspondingly shift probability from the less likely one(s) to the more likely one(s).

        I’m curious what presuppositions you believe Joshua (and other atheists) to have though. You seem to be arguing “we both have some presuppositions, therefore our beliefs are equally valid,” but I haven’t seen where you say what you think the presuppositions are that others (who are atheist) hold and you do not. What would those be?

      • Posted by Joshua on August 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm

        Ken, if your point is well explained by that huffpo piece, then I believe I understand you. You agree with the author in his point that both atheists and theists believe something. And as far as that goes, I certainly agree. Am I also to understand that you further feel that that puts both on equal footing w/regard to how rational their positions are?

        If I understand what I have presented as your second point correctly, that’s where you and I diverge, and that’s actually my central point. My point is that given Unobservable Entity A – for which proof of its existence is impossible to provide, but for which proof contradicting its existence is also impossible – it is more reasonable to doubt its existence than to accept it as fact. Given that a god (any god, pick one) is unobservable, unmeasurable, and its effects on the universe cannot be verified, it is my assertion that it is more reasonable to remain skeptical than to be ‘faithful.’

        I, of course, have followed what I believe to be the next step in the opposing logic to what I think accepting Unobservable Entity A would mean if that same methodology were applied to B, C, D, and so forth. It would mean we accepted all kinds of outlandish, silly, even dangerous ideas as true, and we would act on them to our peril. And I think we don’t do that as a general rule, so I question why we should feel as though it’s reasonable to do that for A (god).

        I still see your point in asking me to use facts to disprove theism. The thing is, I’m not even trying to disprove theism. I’m talking about reason, which leads me to doubt the veracity of theism’s claims. I know it probably seems like I’m saying ‘there is no god,’ but my very first post (the third in this entire comment thread) talks about chance, not fact. I admit I may have left room for you to infer that I’m talking about absolutes, but what I’m saying is that in the absence of facts that prove something is real, it is *more* reasonable to doubt its existence or even disavow it entirely than to hold fast to the idea that it’s actually out there.

        You and I both agree that belief plays a part in both theism and atheism. But given the available information, I think reason says that doubt, rather than faith, is more rational. It seems you and I disagree on that point.

      • Posted by Dawn on August 17, 2010 at 10:46 pm

        And when things happen that defy reason? How do you explain those?

      • Posted by Joshua on August 17, 2010 at 11:17 pm

        Dawn, you’d need to give me an example of what you mean.

      • Posted by Dawn on August 18, 2010 at 12:37 am

        Ok, for example:

        A man falls off a cliff, 75 feet straight down. He survives with minimal injuries (broken leg).

        A man has a huge hook through his head. Not only does he LIVE, he also does not lose any sight or brain usage or anything. He recovers completely.

        Someone is driving on the interstate. The person in front of him slams on their brakes. There isn’t time or room to move over without clipping the back of the person in front. Nevertheless, the driver finds himself in the next lane, safe, having NOT hit the car in front.

        Reasonably speaking, these things can’t happen. They defy reason. How do you explain them?

      • Joshua, I also disagree that doubt is more rational than faith. I say they’re equal.

        Since it’s necessary to define a goal to logically decide which is better, I can’t make an argument. You would have to tell me what the ultimate reason for living is.

        For me, it’s all about feeling great. And in that respect, faith is much, much more rational than doubt.

        /<3

      • Posted by Joshua on August 18, 2010 at 3:29 am

        Dawn, your examples don’t defy reason, they’re just unlikely.

      • Posted by Eric on August 18, 2010 at 3:49 am

        Karanime,

        Even if you think life is only about feeling great (the first question that comes to mind: why aren’t you on heroin right now?), you need to find things which make you feel great. I’ll try to do a quick explanation of this, hopefully I don’t mangle it too badly…

        Your brain is a decision engine. So what it does is it takes a number of potential actions, extrapolates outwards on what the world would look like if you take those actions (in order to simulate possible outcomes), and then it compares the simulated outcomes to see which one it likes best. It then selects the action which leads to the highest utility in your utility function.

        No matter what your utility function is, you still need an accurate “extrapolator” part of your brain to simulate the universe. Think of it like a map – you’re at one place, you want to see where you’ll end up if you make a right turn or a left turn or go straight, so you look at the map and see where you’ll end up. Then you see which of those places is closest to where you want to be. It doesn’t matter where you want to end up, you still need an accurate map in order to get there.

        So the map is your beliefs about reality. If your utility function includes staying alive, then your map had better include believing in gravity, so you don’t jump off a cliff. If you want to help other people, your map had better include directions on what other people want, etc. No matter your utility function, a more accurate map is more likely to get you there.

        Suppose you decide feeling good is your utility function. You could say to yourself, “I want to feel good, and if I have an accurate map, there will be all these depressing things on it, so I’m going to intentionally keep my map inaccurate in order to be happier.” The problem is, you can’t know if you’re actually avoiding those depressing things unless you actually have an accurate map. If it makes you unhappy that there are walls that keep you from walking wherever you want, covering your eyes doesn’t fix the problem, it just makes it harder to avoid the walls.

        So the question is, which gives you a more accurate map: doubt or faith? Well, since blind faith cannot produce an accurate map (according to the second law of thermodynamics), and doubt is a good technique for weeding out false beliefs, the answer is pretty simple. And it doesn’t depend at all on your utility function.

      • Posted by Dawn on August 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

        I’m not so sure doubt would produce an accurate map, either, though.

      • Eric,

        The heroin thing is circumstance. No one’s offered it yet, so I haven’t tried it. I did try weed once. It made me feel stupid. I hated it. Then I was hyped up on caffeine for a while. Great confidence, felt great for a while, then I crashed. Hated it.

        As for the doubt thing… doubt itself isn’t going to do a damn thing. For example, I doubt you’re an actual person. I doubt you’re anything but a figment of my imagination. Helpful? I think not. I’m sure this isn’t what you meant by doubt (you wouldn’t have presented something so irrational), so please clarify.

        To the contrary, I think that testing beliefs is the best way to figure out which is correct.

        So in addition to clarifying the doubt thing, could you give me a few examples I could test within my belief system to see if yours is more correct? Keep in mind that they have to make my belief system look detrimental to me, or else there’s no advantage in switching belief systems.

        As a reminder, I believe this world was created for me and me alone, to shape and define my mind. I’m alive to see what I like and do what I like, and piece together my values. I own this universe, because I created it for this purpose. Everyone here was created by me, to help me define myself.

        P.S. I HATE delusions. But if there’s no way to prove it’s a delusion, how will you ever know it’s not true, and you ARE just a figment of my imagination? I did make you all sentient, after all. 🙂

        /<3

  24. Posted by Daley on August 12, 2010 at 2:13 am

    About: “Promoting abstinence helps to reduce the number of teens who practice “unprotected sex” better than contraceptive promotion does.”
    Not only is that inaccurate, but what you’re promoting is a fear based attempt that is immoral and counterproductive. We could get rid of all the drunks on the road by poisoning alcohol, but that doesn’t mean we should do it. Needing control by ignoring our basic instincts (such as sex) and promoting something immoral to have that control is by far more negative than handing out condoms.

    Reply

    • Daley, your comparison makes no sense. Promoting abstinence isn’t like poisoning alcohol, it’s like telling people not to drink before they drive, AND WE DO THAT!

      Reply

      • I think Daley meant that telling teenagers not to have sex is even more laughable than telling a drunkard not to drink.

        But telling a teen to have safe sex will work like telling the drunkard he can drink so long as he calls a cab at the end of the night.

        Good stuff.

        /<3

  25. Posted by graceisunfair on August 12, 2010 at 2:40 am

    I read a study a couple years ago that said that research shows that promoting monogamous, faithful sexual relationships was more effective in reducing AIDS and other STDs than either promoting contraception or abstinence. But both sides were so entrenched in their position that they’d rather more people die than listen to the research.

    Most of those who promote abstinence, by the way, would likely disagree with your assessment that they are ignoring their “basic instincts.” Much more likely, they’d view it as controlling their bodies rather than allowing our bodies to control us. Something our morbidly obese country could do well to learn.

    Reply

    • Additionally, since when do we allow (or think it is good and healthy) to allow instincts to run willy-nilly? My story is an ordered story. Things are good when they fit into that order, they are not when they don’t.

      I can’t always obey my natural instincts of violence can I? We don’t allow (or think it is good) to solve disputes of with pure force.

      So, the natural instincts argument does not hold water for me.

      Reply

      • Aye, but in the special case of teens, we’re pretty bad at controlling our instincts. As such, we eat, sleep, socialize, and have sex. And not much else.

        Whenever the teen pregnancy and abstinence education issue comes up, that’s the answer. We’ll go at it like rabbits, but give us a handful of condoms, and you avoid the baby bunnies. Tell us not to rail each other and we’ll laugh in your face or lie about it.

        Incidentally, we’re good at beating the living crap out of each other, too. It’s a wonder how we survive past 16.

        /<3

  26. What happened to that global warming denial comment, Ken? I was sending my readers here so they could have a chuckle and maybe respond to you. Did you edit your comment?

    Reply

  27. So many good conversations going on at once!

    I have a question for atheists. How do you all self-describe? I imagine that you all hold to some sort of modernist naturalistic (empirical?) materialism and that there is quite a diversity of beliefs and practices within your…. tent.

    So, how do you all like to describe yourselves?

    Reply

    • I use the word “atheism” to describe the fact that I don’t believe in theism. It’s not a rejection of all possible supernatural claims, but a rejection of the claims I’m familiar with, especially Christianity. I’m not sure what “modernist naturalistic materialism” is. My atheism is not about making a positive claim about the world. It’s about not believing the major supernatural claims of Earth’s popular religions.

      I use the word “humanism” to describe the fact that I believe in human rights and human progress with no appeals to the supernatural.

      Reply

    • There are no positive claims involved? It’s just a stance against a stance? I don’t know if that is possible. (I’m not being snarky, I am honestly befuddled).

      Reply

      • Yes, atheism is just the rejection of theism. I don’t see it as having any stance beyond that. Sam Harris puts it this way, “Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma.” We don’t have words for people who don’t believe in astrology and once Christianity gets below a critical mass, people may not bother describing themselves as atheists anymore. But as long as we’re surrounded by a culture where Christianity is the majority, a word to describe our rejection of theism is useful.

        Source for the Harris quote:
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/there-is-no-god-and-you-k_b_8459.html

      • I keep forgetting that Christians are the majority.

        I’m not technically an atheist, but I find I have to use that title because autotheism isn’t an option on most profiles. 🙂

        Usually atheists don’t have positive claims. The etymology almost prohibits it. But atheists are often other things, like objectivists and such.

        Calling myself an autotheist makes the most sense to me because I really do believe I created everything. And as such, all of it has to be good, because it’s all made from me.

        I’m mostly here because I like philosophy, seeing as how I can’t attempt to prove myself, nor have any desire to prove anyone wrong. We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. I just like thinking about it, no matter how futile.

        /<3

    • Ghosts are material too.

      Reply

  28. […] About « Let’s get serious […]

    Reply

  29. I don’t believe in a personal deity. I do believe that the universe is beautiful and sacred — a theophany, if you like.

    I practice two religions (I like liberal religion) because I like ritual and meditation and participating in a community of other people who are on a journey to develop themselves and try to make the world a happier place to live in. I believe that this is the aim of religious people and atheists alike. Both have got it badly wrong in the past.

    Reply

  30. Dear Almighty God,

    Please read Karen Armstrong’s history of you — I think you would find it most interesting. Did you know that you have several separate identities – the God of the philosophers, the God of Western Christianity, the God of Eastern Christianity, the God of the mystics, the Neoplatonic Divine Source, the Ain Sof (the God beyond God), and so on? And there’s also a chapter about your death, but don’t let it get you down, cos you’re obviously alive and well since you’re writing your own blog, right? Just like Dr Watson from Sherlock Holmes… he has his own blog too.

    Also, who doesn’t like to read about themselves? I mean, we know you do, cos your official autobiography is so long that most of your followers never get beyond Leviticus, even though there’s all those x-rated bits.

    Reply

  31. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by almightygod, Jarret Roberts. Jarret Roberts said: RT @almightygod: There are plenty of natural sources/explanation for human ethics: https://almightygod.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/lets-get-serious/#comment-205 […]

    Reply

  32. In his excellent book, Godless morality, Bishop Richard Holloway points out that it’s ridiculous to make God the source of ethics, because we don’t know what God thinks about anything (or even if She exists), and if we claim that our ethical code is God-given, then we are in danger of projecting our own prejudices onto the Ultimate.

    Theists and non-theists should both read the book, as it explains why we should not regard God as the source of ethics, and suggests a great way of thinking about morality and weighing up complex moral questions, i.e. that they are usually about two conflicting good things, rather than a conflict of good and evil.

    Reply

  33. Posted by xGibran on August 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    ‘I can’t argue this. Every God argument (for or against) ends up in a giant loophole that ends in, “It doesn’t matter so just get on with your life.” ‘

    I agree with this, the problem is when the killing and discrimination begins.

    Reply

    • Yeah, but absolutely anyone can find a reason to kill and discriminate, so the focus shouldn’t be anywhere near God, except when talking about our motivations for these two things. And surprisingly, it’s not always God.

      Most ethical codes claim to spring from the Bible. I’ve said before that the Bible is so full of metaphors and is so old that this isn’t practical. It’s not necessarily that we don’t know what God thinks (although I guess that too), it’s that what we do know of what He thinks is very convoluted and messy.

      /<3

      Reply

  34. Posted by David Duthie on August 16, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    As far as I can tell, one needs only to make one assumption to come to a belief in an omnipotent God. Viz. Logic is valid. From there, C.S. Lewis presents a neatly argued case. Apparently Descartes came to same conclusion via “I think therfore I am.”

    Reply

  35. Posted by Aeolus on September 9, 2010 at 1:31 am

    I’m a bit LTTP here and have no intention of reading all 155 posts but from what I’ve read most seem to be hung up on the idea of tangible evidence vs a lack of. I don’t think those who believe in a monotheistic god necessarily reduce the argument to that of an idea that is or is not provable. For an increasing amount of people that is a counterproductive idea. For some the idea of god is expressed either through community or extreme self denial.

    Reply

  36. In ’93, a discovery was made to the effect that parts of a message had been hidden in parts of the Old Testament and in parts of the New Testament. Eventually, it was discovered that parts of the same message had also been hidden in the Book of Mormon.

    One way to summarize this situation would be to say that the message superseded the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon. Another way to summarize the situation would be to say that Judaism, Christianity and Mormonism have been superseded.

    However the situation might best be summarized, it is clear that parts of the message were hidden approximately 3500 years ago, and other parts of the message were hidden approximately 1900 years ago, and other parts of the message were hidden as recently as 1827 AD, which is less than 200 years ago. So whoever wrote and hid the message, wrote and hid it during a span of approximately 3300 years. So any explanations (of the existence of the message) should take that fact into account.

    Another fact to take into account is that the message itself contains the instructions of how to find the parts of the message. Yet another fact to take into account is that the message consists entirely of riddles which we can solve and thereby learn the figurative meaning of the message, in addition to the literal meaning which we can learn by merely reading it.

    Good luck with the riddles.

    Reply

    • Posted by Eric on November 22, 2010 at 2:36 pm

      Uh yeah… sure. A message had been hidden. Right.

      Yet you provide no link or citation of the evidence for this message.

      Good luck with convincing people you’re not a crank.

      Reply

  37. Link to the message? Hm. When I click on the word “thisgoodriddle” in the header that reads, “”Posted by thisgoodriddle on November 22, 2010 at 1:33 am”, a page opens and displays the first 135 paragraphs of the message. Doesn’t that happen for you?

    Reply

  38. Posted by Almightygod on July 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks for your comment and thanks for following me on twitter. I’ve studied Islam some and read the Quran. For what it’s worth, I think it’s no more violent and nutty than the bible or book of Mormon. ;). 

    The earth is not a closed system. Energy flows in from the sun. Overall, the universe may be moving toward disorder, but there are small pockets of increasing complexity. This neither violates the 2nd law nor requires a supernatural explanation. 

    There’s no good evidence that Abraham actually existed in history.

    Reply

  39. Although I emailed the reply, but I am pasting it here too.

    AA,

    Being a muslim, I would applaud your approach to this “is there, is there not?” question. Quran states

    “And do not follow any information of which you have no knowledge. Using your faculties of perception and conception, you must verify it for yourself. (In the Court of your Lord,) you will be held accountable for your hearing, sight, and the faculty of reasoning.”[17:36]”

    If my opinion matters, your quest for knowledge is the right one :).

    In my personal opinion, atheists usually run away from religion (organized) not because of the religion itself, but because of the religion shops and more importantly those shop keepers (priest, rabbi, mulla) and their half baked interpretations. These bastards have been twisting the minds in the name of God, and often allow the faith to be used in some regime’s expansionist agenda. Due to this, over the years, we get a twisted version of faith.

    In case of Islam, luckily (or by decree of Allah) the book remains intact. But these bastard shopkeepers keep on twisting it.

    The matter of God is between a man and God, and there is no third person involved. As for the rest of the brainless believers, most of them believe because their fathers believed, and know nothing about it. You are absolutely right in making fun of them twitter ;).

    PS: I did not mean to say earth is closed system, I mean the solar system is a closed system. And the big bang is a theory, not a fact. Plus, in order for big bang to happen, we need some kind of trigger. Science fails to explain that trigger 😛

    //yousuf

    Reply

  40. no it doesn’t. You are talking in terms of energy. I am talking in terms of design.

    You are a computer scientist. Right? So you must have gone through a course called “Probability and Random Variables”. Right?

    I will leave my question in the middle. Because I find this discussion with you useless. 🙂

    Reply

    • Yousuf, you said “Entropy.” Entropy doesn’t have anything to do with design. You talked about entropy and evolution, and didn’t say a single thing about design. If you’re going to make the argument from design, you need to make it separately from the entropy argument and not use the word entropy in it. The entropy argument, as I’ve pointed out, fails.

      I’m sure the discussion is useless for you, as you refuse to admit even a completely obvious error like the one you made about entropy. If your eyes end up in the same state no matter what light hits them, there’s a word for that – blind. If your beliefs end up in the same state no matter what information hits them, you’ve blinded yourself to reality even more deeply than if you had covered your eyes.

      Reply

  41. Posted by Haidi on October 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Hey, tell you what. There’s something out there, some unknown being. I have an Incubus inside me for 22 years now. It’s convincing me that he is Jesus Christ, qouting verses from the bible, he says that he’ll actually marry Mary Magdalene IN NEW JERUSALEM and that I am Satan’s bestfriend and that I’m the antichrist. If this is the devil or this is really Jesus Christ (I sincerely hope he’s not JC, I don’t want to burn in hell), one thing is for sure, there’s somethings science can’t explain.

    The argument I’m having with this demon or JC (whoever he really is) made me think of this awful and horrible fact. GOD is EVIL. Why create something just to torment it? He made Lucifer who later became Satan, don’t give me the bullshit that it’s because of free will. So, you’re trying to say that free will is not included in the vast power of God? But then again, he owns EVERYTHING, right? EVERYTHING INCLUDING FRRE WILL.

    “God is love”. ..l..

    Believe me, there is a God. Problem is, his trait.

    Reply

  42. […] person behind Almighty God, asks for a serious discussion concerning why people do or do not believe in a God(s). There’s been some good discussion over there, some discussion I hope to join in soon.  I […]

    Reply

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