Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence

I recently listened to a debate between Christian apologist Norman Geisler and Paul Kurtz, one of the heroes of the secular humanist movement.

Several basic points occurred to me while listening. They all have to do with the atheist’s assuming ignorance rather than allowing his mind to go where the evidence (one of his favorite words) points.

The Origin of the Universe

There is overwhelming scientific and philosophical evidence that the physical cosmos (hereafter “cosmos”) has not existed eternally. Therefore there was a time (or perhaps we should speak more generally and say “a domain”) in which there was no cosmos: no matter, energy, space or even time.

Since the cosmos obviously does exist now, it seems obvious that some entity other than the cosmos must have caused it to come into existence. The only alternative is that sheer nothingness somehow “caused” the cosmos, an obvious impossibility.

The typical atheist responds to all this by asserting that we do not know what caused the cosmos, therefore atheism (or at least agnosticism) is the preferred position.

Here’s the basic problem with that: If someone really doesn’t know what caused the cosmos, then the cause could be anything. That’s what “I don’t know” means. Therefore if the skeptic is serious in his claim, he cannot rule out the possibility of God. If the cause is unknown, it could have been God. After all, the cause would have to exist outside of matter, energy, space and time, and would have be unimaginably powerful if not omnipotent, and either unimaginably lucky or else unimaginably wise.  It would have to have these attributes. And these are some of the primary attributes of the God of the Bible, the one true and living God.

Therefore the honest skeptic would have to say, “Yes, it could be God, but I prefer not to believe that.”

Evolution

Atheistic scientists and their fans claim that Darwinian, fully atheistic evolution (or, as they call it, “evolution”) is an established fact. But they also admit that science has not established the exact processes and sequence of events by which this atheistic evolution occurred.

[The word “evolution” has a wide range of meanings. We focus on the meaning used by apologists for atheism: That life developed by completely naturalistic processes.]

Question: If you don’t know how it occurred, how do you know that it occurred? The obvious answer: You don’t.

The atheistic scientists and their fans are assuming (not proving) that God could not have had anything to do with the development of life. This being so, something like atheistic Darwinian evolution is the only possibility: With no God to intervene, the only possible scenario is a vast series of tiny random changes leading, luckily, to ourselves.

Therefore the concept of Darwinian atheistic evolution has literally zero force as evidence against God. It is nothing more than the only possibility that survives the assumption of no God.

 Evidence about the Life of Christ

The Bible, and a few other ancient books, gives testimony about Jesus. Atheists respond that these are just stories invented by the authors in order to spread a doctrine. Christians respond by pointing out various ways to argue that the biblical testimony is trustworthy.

Question: How do the atheists know that the biblical accounts are not accurate? Do they have independent evidence from the First Century which proves that Jesus of Nazareth was just a man, or even nonexistent? No, they do not. There are a few ancient sources claiming that Jesus was just a man, but these are hardly decisive.

All the atheists have is the assumption that Jesus as described in the Bible could never have existed. Under this assumption, they feel justified in rejecting all the arguments supporting the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Assuming atheism at the start, they arrive at the conclusion that the Jesus of Christianity is a myth. But that’s circular reasoning.

*

If you assume no God, or that knowledge of God is impossible, you get a system in which there is no God. A system in which you can discount all the evidence for Christianity. But it’s all based on a negative assumption.  And there is no reason to assume the negative.

Most atheists won’t acknowledge that they are reasoning in a circle. They try to cover it up with various distractions. They will say that they actually do look to the evidence, but find it to be invalid. But they judge it to be invalid because they are assuming that God is impossible, and if he is impossible then any evidence that seems to point to him would have to be invalid.

When the sophisticated-sounding excuses are removed, it really is that simple. They choose to begin with unbelief.

But man is not omniscient. He cannot assume “no” as his answer. He must look to the evidence, not try to deny its fundamental validity.

About these ads

129 thoughts on “Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence

  1. Very powerful illumination. This is where atheists will admit that their atheism is an assumption. They will admit that they are a 6 out of 7 point atheist. They will have a “fun” discussion about the robot alien Gods that created us or programmed the hologram that is our cosmos. This is where they will admit that they are not materialists, nor do they know any materialists. This is where they slink away, only to return another day, strident and angry and anti-religious once they’ve forgotten their lessons.

    Or– God willing, they’re brave enough to face the truth and humble enough to stay the course and address their circular reasoning and irrational anger and moral expectations. In the end it seems that bravery and humility is needed most, not a college degree and a library full of science and philosophy books. Bravery and humility in the relentless pursuit of truth is known as honesty.

    Many intellectual atheists are just not honest with themselves. All that intellect, and no honesty. What a waste.

    • Honest atheist here.

      Atheism is an assumption the way not believing in Santa Claus is an assumption. Atheism is nothing more than the default position applied to G(g)od(s). I don’t believe in Santa, because I have no convincing evidence that Santa exists. Same goes for gods.

      Where is the lack of bravery, humility and honesty in that??

      • You have no convincing evidence for “gods.” But do you know that you are applying the correct criteria to decide if the evidence is valid?

      • But do you know that you are applying the correct criteria to decide if the evidence is valid?

        Of course not! My decision making process is incredibly faulty, and ultimately unreliable…in other words, human. Yet it is the only process I have. That is what makes me an agnostic.

      • The fact is that santa, fairies, and lightning bolt hurling gods all really do exist, and you agree with me that they all really do exist. As literary devices, or fun stories we tell our kids, of course. But they really do exist. Now that you agree that they do exist, and we know their nature, let’s talk about The One True God that is nothing like anything desribed in your honest atheist replies (here and in the newer post).

    • “If you assume no God, or that knowledge of God is impossible, you get a system in which there is no God…” Why does the writer assume that it is reasonable to assume a god?

      • …Because he assumes that the white man has free will and thus the sheer impossibility of said white man being confined to an infinite regress from nothing.

  2. Preaching to the motivated-reasoning choir. This argument is old and no one finds it persuasive who is not already on your side. No one is claiming they can prove anything about nature and the cosmos in the sense that we can prove anything in pure logic or mathematics. An argument that the existence of the supernatural cannot be disproved in this sense is the weakest form of argument possible that such things therefore still might exist. There is evidence, and there are word games. Trying to desperately salvage the material and empirical cognizability of the theological is a fool’s errand, and is precisely what led to Increase Mather’s defense of the contemporary existence of witchcraft, for which many innocent people paid with their lives. Let faith remain in the domain of faith.

    Nevertheless, it is perfectly reasonable to presume the provision validity of certain very well substantiated theories.

    “There is overwhelming scientific and philosophical evidence that the physical cosmos (hereafter “cosmos”) has not existed eternally.”

    Not even close. There is overwhelming strong evidence that approximately 13.7 billion years ago the cosmos was in an incredibly compact state and then inflated with astounding rapidity and in a way that would completely erase all trace of – and possibility of knowing – what transpired beforehand, or even whether there was a beforehand. (Read more on that site to understand the two period of cold then hot big bangs). There is neither any need to explain a ’cause’, no cause is required under standard model theories, nor is there a justification for its hypothecation.

    Nevertheless, our understanding of the dynamical rules of the nature has become extremely deep and out models, while neither perfect nor complete, have amazingly profound predictive and explanatory power. What have been the predictive successes of any theological hypothesis in the past century? There are zero of which I am aware.

    The question is one of Bayesian Abduction. Given what we observe and can replicate, and the comparative reliability of various forms of evidence, what is the most probable and parsimonious explanation for the nature of ontological reality? While it is impossible to exclude the possibility of hypothetical nonexcludable phenomena (like the existence of God), it is simply logically incorrect to say that Atheism is not a superior answer to that question than any alternative theological hypothesis.

    Of course no one has a time machine video camera and can show you to your satisfaction what actually occurred. The historical question is whether we have any compelling reason to believe in the necessity for additional explanatory factors besides the ordinary mechanical consequences of natural laws that we are able to observe and corroborate today.

    Do we need ‘God’ to explain the landscape, or does Geology do an adequate job? Where Geology falls short, is that because we have gaps in our scientific knowledge that are likely to be filled with additional investigation and exploration, or because we are dealing with phenomena which cannot, by their very nature, be determined in such an empirical fashion

    And at any rate, you should recognize the danger of this particular kind of argument when made by Christians. After all, how can any Christian respond to the question of whether the claims of any other pagan religion are possible or the better explanation of cosmogenesis? Any Hindu or animist can say, “You can’t just assume my version of events, or my collection of divine spirits, is false either!” Indeed, not only do we have these contemporary theological competitors, not only the various strains of Christianity itself, and not only do we we have the whole collection of extinct mythologies with which to contend, but there is the entire space of possible theological or supernatural explanations. All of this becomes equally valid in terms of ‘unprovably invalid’ by these criteria. That’s where you get the flying spaghetti monster uncivil mockery.

    And then the question becomes how do you choose any particular subset of options from this gigantic space as being more preferable than the rest? If you concede even a single inch to empirical replication and Occam’s razor, then everything points immediately to the empty set – which is Atheism.

    • Hello Handle,

      In one sense you’re overreacting to my post. It was not an attempted proof of God, or even the supernatural, but just a basic preliminary point: To have any confidence in atheism, one must assume it rather than reach it as a reasonable conclusion from evidence.

      You say, regarding the Big Bang,

      There is neither any need to explain a ’cause’, no cause is required under standard model theories, nor is there a justification for its hypothecation.

      And why is there no need to explain a cause? A cause does exist, and inquiring minds want to know.

      What have been the predictive successes of any theological hypothesis in the past century? There are zero of which I am aware.

      Theology does not deal with predicting predictable events. Therefore your objection is irrelevant.

      The historical question is whether we have any compelling reason to believe in the necessity for additional explanatory factors besides the ordinary mechanical consequences of natural laws that we are able to observe and corroborate today.

      Mechanical natural laws cannot explain many things that are both real and important. You just assume that they can explain them.

      After all, how can any Christian respond to the question of whether the claims of any other pagan religion are possible or the better explanation of cosmogenesis?

      You judge between competing theories by examining the evidence. That’s as true in religion as in any other field. Now, most people don’t want to judge the religion that they received from their ancestors, but that does not change the basic nature of what’s going on.

      *

      You atheists declare anything that cannot be proven by your system to be non-objective, and then congratulate yourselves on possessing the only system that prove things objectively. You try to win by disqualifying your opponents.

      • “What have been the predictive successes of any theological hypothesis in the past century? There are zero of which I am aware.”

        Sinning ain’t gonna make people happy.

      • Theology does not deal with predicting predictable events. Therefore your objection is irrelevant.

        Although Original Sin does seem to explain a lot.

      • When you have a system which is not at maximum entropy at some time t, then the entropy is practically guaranteed to increase along at least one direction on the time axis away from t. This allows you to define a direction of time, going from lower to higher entropy. Having done that, it’s possible to talk about ‘past’ and ‘future’, instead of just ‘lower values of t’ and ‘higher values of t’. This also allows you to talk about ’causes’ and ‘effects’ instead of just ‘things happening’.

        When this is not fulfilled, there is no such things as causality. It might feel like there should be, but this feeling is almost exactly analogous to the feeling you might have had as a child that there ought to be an ‘up’ in space: We are used to space having a clear asymmetry, allowing us to distinguish between ‘up’ and ‘down’. This asymmetry is not an intrinsic property of space though – it’s a side effect of the Earth being near us in space. Move far enough away from the Earth and there is no ‘up’ and ‘down’, just ‘this direction’ and ‘that direction’. Similary, we are used to time having a clear asymmetry, allowing to distinguish between ’cause’ and ‘effect’. This asymmetry is not an intrinsic property of time either – it’s a side effect of the Big Bang being near us in time. Move far enough from the Big Bang and there is no ’cause’ and ‘effect’, just ‘a thing that happens’ and ‘another thing that happens’.

      • Hello Dorfl,

        This is a very interesting argument, combining Hume’s reduction of causality to temporal succession with the widespread belief that the “arrow of time” is an epiphenomenon of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Since entropy is a thing that only appears through coarse-graining over microstates, one would then naturally say that causality exists only under coarse-graining and is not a feature of the world at the microscopic level.

        While respecting this argument, I think there’s actually more to be said for the opposite view: causality doesn’t require an arrow of time, but the idea of time is bound up with the idea of causality. As for the first claim, there’s nothing incoherent about the idea of a cause and effect both existing at all times, with the cause eternally producing the same effect. In fact, for the type of causality theists usually invoke, cause and effect are always thought of as acting simultaneously.

        On the other hand, I think you’re concluding too much from the supposed time-reversal invariance of the laws of physics. First of all, the existence of CP violation proves that this symmetry is not always satisfied. However, even for genuinely time-symmetric theories, one shouldn’t conclude too much from a formal mathematical symmetry. The fact that one can evolve the same laws of motion (e.g. Newton’s) forward to predict the future and backward to predict the past doesn’t make it an illusion that causality really flows one way. If A only and always causes B, and B only and always causes C, then one can reason from B to A and C in a formally similar way, even though there is a definite causal asymmetry.

        As for my claim that time is inferred from causality rather than vice versa, let me start with a commonplace observation about what it is that makes time different from other dimensions. We know it has something to do with the Lorentzian signature of the metric, the fact that it’s ds^2 = -dt^2 + dx^2 +… rather than ds^2 = dt^2 + dx^2 +… However, one can’t just pick a coordinate axis and call it “time”; that’s not frame-invariant. Really, the way we identify the past and future of event A is by looking to see whether another event is in its past or future light cone. Events that can influence A are in A’s past; events that A can influence are in A’s future. Events outside A’s light cone can have neither type of causal relation to A, and so in the theory of relativity they have no temporal relationship to A, which happened first being a frame-dependent question. This is quite striking to me, that relativity has brought out that relations of time only exist when there are relations of causality. Of course, you can say that the direction of causality is something I’ve imported into the theory (and that every other physicist who’s ever used it has imported into the theory), but that just brings us back to the argument of the previous paragraph.

      • And why is there no need to explain a cause? A cause does exist, and inquiring minds want to know.

        A cause might exist. Quantum mechanics tell us that some things just happen rather than are caused. That may seem counter-intuitive but much of quantum physics is.* Since cosmology is showing more and more that the net energy of the universe is zero, it can be argued that the entire universe is a virtual particle. One of the characteristics of such particles is they are not caused but happen. A virtual particle appears, borrowing the energy to exist from the universe, and then disappears before the “energy debt” becomes due. But if a virtual particle has no energy there’s no energy debt so it can begin to exist but doesn’t have to cease existence.

        The other problem with the first cause argument is that if you posit that a god or other supernatural beings caused the universe, then what caused the god(s)? “Oh, well, you see, er, um, well, God always existed” is special pleading. It’s just as reasonable to say “the universe just happened” as “God is uncaused.” Besides, specific gods aren’t a good explanation for the cause of universe. The Abrahamic god is as likely a cause of the universe as the Great Green Arkleseizure.

        *”If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” Attributed to Richard Feynman

      • A cause might exist. Quantum mechanics tell us that some things just happen rather than are caused. That may seem counter-intuitive but much of quantum physics is.* Since cosmology is showing more and more that the net energy of the universe is zero, it can be argued that the entire universe is a virtual particle. One of the characteristics of such particles is they are not caused but happen. A virtual particle appears, borrowing the energy to exist from the universe, and then disappears before the “energy debt” becomes due. But if a virtual particle has no energy there’s no energy debt so it can begin to exist but doesn’t have to cease existence.

        One of our co-bloggers, Bonald, a physicist, dealt with the standard QM objections over at his blog long ago: http://bonald.wordpress.com/in-defense-of-religion/finite-and-unlimited-being/7/

        Your other objections are addressed there, as well, and elsewhere. Suffice it to say “what caused God?” isn’t really a compelling objection and not one that ever, ever, ever surprises theists.

      • Hello ambidexter143,

        As Proph has said, I’m not a fan of the “something from nothing” interpretation of pair creation (and universe creation) in quantum field theory. (Here is a better link for my argument: http://orthosphere.org/2012/12/31/something-from-nothing-i-the-relevance-of-science-to-philosophy/). Something needs to serve as the ontological ground for quantum mechanics itself plus one’s chosen Hamiltonian and Hilbert space. That is, unless you want to regard the laws of physics as entities in their own right rather than descriptions, which is intrinsically bizarre and itself defeats the attempt to use quantum mechanics to get around causality. I’ve long thought the way to understand QFT is to look at it’s application to solids, where you can do math for phonons that looks like particle physics, but it’s clear what the ontological ground is and where it is implicitly appealed to. Vilenkin’s original universe from “nothing” scenario (and in his letter, he was prudent enough to distinguish his “nothing” from metaphysical “nothing), was–as he emphasized–analogous to the semiclassical calculation of pair creation from a background electric field. An E field’s causal primacy would not be obvious to someone just from that calculation, and I’m convinced that something of the sort must be true for universe-making scenarios as well.

        Of course, my presumption that the universe came from a “prior” (causally, not temporally) physical state also cuts against Alan’s argument toward God from the Big Bang, but I’ve already told him my issues with that.

      • I know that theists hand-wave away “God isn’t caused” through various logical fallacies, particularly special pleading and pretending the question “what caused God” is a category fallacy. The usual excuse is the ontological argument “God is a necessary being.” Let’s consider what this really means:

        The concept of a necessary being was formulated by St. Anselm and says that God is the greatest possible being; it is in the very nature of God that he essentially (and necessarily) possesses all compossible perfections. Necessary existence is a perfection and therefore God must possess it. In more simplistic terms, the argument becomes “I imagine God as existing therefore God exists.”

        Anselm’s reasoning is fallacious. He assumed there is no difference between his concept of God and God existing in fact. He’s essentially defining God as existing and thus posits that God must exist per his definition. I can define my bank account as containing a million dollars but the bank has a different definition of the account. The ontological proof of God is semantic hand-waving.

        All other proofs of God fail in similar ways. They all depend on semantics, logical fallacies, or having the converse of the argument being equally valid.

      • It is not “hand waving.” We do not say that everything requires a cause, but only that which does not exist eternally (or, more generally, that which does not exist necessarily.) Something which exists eternally can have no cause, or at least no cause that precedes it. The cosmos has not existed eternally, as far as all our physical evidence shows, therefore it requires a cause. But not literally everything has a cause, or else we have an infinite regression which leaves everything contingent, that is, unexplained. Therefore there must exist something which does not have a cause. Atheists call this thing the Comos. Theists call it God.

      • Ambidexter: The idea that God, properly speaking, has to be understood as a necessary being does not depend upon Anselm. I happen to be a strong admirer of Anselm’s Ontological Argument, but I grant that it can seem awfully thin beer at first pass. It certainly seemed that way to me at first. But I realized after a while that maybe the fact that Anselm is considered one of the greatest Scholastic philosophers might be reason enough to take a closer and more open-minded look at his Argument. I think now that it is a thing of great beauty, one of the most sublime discoveries of the human intellect.

        But that’s neither here nor there. The case that the ultimate cause of the universe must be a necessary being is quite simple. Contingent things all require causes, so likewise the whole assemblage of contingent things – including this and all other universes, laws of physics, quantum vacuums, Zeus, Gabriel, you name it, the whole shooting match, contingent existence as such – must have an ultimate cause. Whatever is and might not have been had somehow to have been brought into being from a state wherein the amount of its existence was zero. This is true of contingency by definition, in the same way that unity is true of 1 by definition.

        Now, every contingent cause we might propose for our ultimate cause of contingent things is itself a member of the category of contingent things that needs to be caused, if any of them are going to actually happen. So our ultimate cause can’t be contingent. The only other sort of candidate for the office of “cause of contingent being as such” is the set of necessary beings. For reasons I won’t go into in this comment, that set turns out to have only one member. There can be only one necessary being.

        So, there must be a necessary being that is the ultimate cause of the existence of all contingent beings. A necessary being is also eternal, for to be necessary is to be such as to exist in every possible state of affairs; a necessary being cannot possibly fail to exist, no matter what.

        A necessary eternal being who brought this world and all others into existence and sustains them therein is what all men have always meant by “God.”

      • Hello Bonald!

        It’s not that there’s anything incoherent about the idea of simultanous cause and effect. It’s that we’ve never observed it, and I think you would need to postulate a lot of additional physics for any such thing to even be possible. I mean, to even be distinguished, two events need to be separate in space or time. As you point out, a causal relationship requires them to be in each other’s light cones. This requires a separation of time.

        It’s true that the laws of physics aren’t completely invariant under time-reversal. Even without being adjacent to the Big Bang you could distinguish between ‘the direction in which weak interactions work like this’ and ‘the direction in which weak interactions work like that’. However, I don’t that’s really relevant to the way we assign ‘past’ and ‘future’ to the two directions. (I mean, if we had discovered that weak interactions work the way we now know they do under time-reversal, it’s not as though we’d have said “Clearly, we’ve mixed past and future up. Actually I died in the past, and will be born in the future.”)

        I guess I can’t actually disagree with the statement that “one shouldn’t conclude too much from a formal mathematical symmetry” because, well, by the definition of ‘too much’ it’s automatically true. I do think that the formal mathematical properties of the theory is the best guide we have to the underlying reality though. The mathematical models we have of whichever rules the underlying reality obeys do not fundamentally distinguish between cause and effect. But they do explain why a distinction arises* under certain conditions. By extension, they explain why intelligent beings that have evolved under such conditions would tend to use the heuristic of modelling things in terms of cause and effect, and why it would be difficult for them to switch off this tendency in situations where those conditions no longer apply. As far as I’m concerned, this means we’re done. There is no need to ‘glue on’ a metaphysical concept of causality on top of this. In fact, parsimony actively tells us not to.

        You’re right that I think the direction of causality is something you’ve imported into the theory. In itself, the theory of relativity just allows you to distinguish ‘this half of the light cone’ and ‘that half of the light cone’. Which one you consider to be ‘past’ and ‘future’ is either a pure notation thing, or something you’ve extracted from the thermodynamics of the situation you’re describing.

        * Whether emergent properties are ‘real’ or not is a question I’d really rather not get into.

      • Hello Dorfl,

        Thanks for the reply. One could alternatively argue that, because the laws of physics are local, all causality has simultaneous cause and effect. However, I don’t think I’m going to push that argument, or even my previous ones, because as I try to think this through more carefully, I realize that the connection between things philosophers (some of which meanings theism apologists often invoke) mean by causality and what scientists mean by it is not obvious. I need to get things straight in my head first. Maybe I’ll end up closer to your well-expressed view.

      • Dorfl: “I mean, to even be distinguished, two events need to be separate in space or time. As you point out, a causal relationship requires them to be in each other’s light cones. This requires a separation of time.”
        Are there really *two events* separate in space or time? Perhaps it’s just *one event* where we make distinction of cause and effect. Or we can speak of *two objects* in interaction, each of them undergoing change *caused* by the other. So what is there that has its own light cones? It seems to me that it can’t be the cause and the effect because they are not objects.

        Dorfl: “The mathematical models we have of whichever rules the underlying reality obeys do not fundamentally distinguish between cause and effect…”
        To me this means that something that the mathematical models describe *causes* reality to operate the way it does. If it si so how can we say we can’t distinguish between cause and effect? Perhaps there is the distinction between philospher’s and scientist’s understanding of causality as Bonald says above.

        I am neither physicist nor philosopher so maybe I’m missing something.

      • Hello Bonald!

        I must say I’m honestly impressed. People saying “Hold on, I need to think this through before giving an opinion” is so rare on the internet that I don’t think I’ve actually seen it happen more than once or twice.

        I should probably read up on how philosophers define causality, since I really only have the scientist’s definition. My ‘to read’ keeps growing faster than I can read it…

        I just want to add one thing that I kind of skipped past earlier. I think there are two approximations going into describing things in terms of cause and effect. There is the division of events* into causes and effects that arises from thermodynamics, as we have already discussed. Before that, we have already made an implicit approximation by talking about discrete ‘events’, instead of just looking at a continuous, continuously differentiable time evolution.

        * I’m using the word ‘event’ in the everyday sense of “a thing happening”, not in the technical sense of “a space-time coordinate”.

      • Hello RT!

        There is a certain degree of fuzziness in what we even mean by an ‘event’*. If you look at our current best models of physics, they describe reality in terms of systems undergoing continuous time evolution. So picking out discrete ‘events’ from this is in itself an approximation of what we think is probably happening in the underlying reality. (It’s a very useful approximation: I’d much rather say “the ball bounced against the floor” than describe the smoothly increasing electrostatic repulsion between the ball and the floor, and the resulting smooth change in the motion vector of the ball.)

        You could say that the mathematical models describe something that causes reality to operate the way it does. You could also just say that the mathematical models describe the operation of reality. That is to say, whether there is any causality involved seems to depend on whether you think of reality and the patterns in how reality operates as separate things or not. I’m not sure that that’s at all a meaningful distinction, which makes me think the causality you see there is less likely to be an actual thing than to be an artifact of which way of categorising things you find intuitively helpful.

        I’m a physicist but not a philosopher, so it’s very possible I’m missing something, though.

        * Sometimes ‘event’ is used to refer to a coordinate in spacetime, but that’s obviously not the definition we’re using now.

      • Thanks for reply, Dorfl,

        I hope I understood you correctly.

        “That is to say, whether there is any causality involved seems to depend on whether you think of reality and the patterns in how reality operates as separate things or not.”

        I don’t think they are separate things. Perhaps we can talk about making distinction within one thing. To me making mathematical models describing operation of reality already points out to such distinction. Mathematical model provides answer to our question what makes the reality operate the way it does and not any other i.e. question about *cause*. While such model is also artifact it reveals something real. So it seems that such a way of categorising things is helpful for you as scientist in the first place.

        Or to put it differently, how can you draw conclusion about causality from mathematical models that themselves presuppose causality? Perhaps you can but wouldn’t it be limited to particular kind of causality or to particular phenomena?

      • Hello RT!

        Essentially, our mathematical models of the laws of physics are just a description of how* things tend to happen. The attempt to do that kind of modelling doesn’t inherently presuppose causality. It doesn’t really presuppose anything much, other than that it’s possible to construct a mathematical structure that to some degree of approximation maps on to some subset of external reality.

        (I’m not sure if this analogy is useful, but it occured to me just now and I want to test it. Skip this part if you think it just obscures things.

        You could think of the situation as being analoguous to drawing a map. The attempt to draw a map of some landscape basically just assumes that some features of that landscape can be put on paper in some form.

        It doesn’t assume that this is true for every part of the landscape. For example, we take for granted that while a map might tell us where a lake is, it won’t tell us the locations of the individual fishes in it. As long as some parts can be mapped, that’s enough for us to consider the process of mapping to be worthwhile.

        It might seem to assume a lot of things about the properties of the landscape. For example, that things do not move around noticeably from one day to the next, that there are not several layers of terrain on top of each other, that the space is Euclidean, and so on. But if you think about it deeper, you realise that you could actually think of workarounds allowing you to draw a map of an area not fulfilling those seeming assumptions. They might result in a map very unlike what we ordinarily think of when we talk about ‘maps’ – because we haven’t had to deal with those particular problems when drawing maps in reality – but it would still be a description on paper of where things are at any particular moment. So those things aren’t actually assumptions that necessarily go into the attempt to map things. The only assumption that mapping fundamentally seems to require is that it’s at all possible to connect features on a paper to features in the actual landscape.)

        Now, it is true that when people started making formal physical models a few centuries back, they definitely expected causality to be a hugely important thing. In that sense causality was an assumption. But with time there seemed to be less and less use for the concept. Eventually, physics reached the point where you could pretty much discard that concept and the whole thing still held together. Which I think means that – by parsimony – we should discard the concept**.

        * Huh. I’d always though of “physics tells you how things happen but not why” as one of those statements that sound deep but actually have very little content. But now as I write this I feel like I’m getting an idea of what whoever said it originally may have meant.

        ** When it comes to our descriptions of the fundamental laws of physics that is. For more coarse-grained descriptions of the world, it’s still a hugely useful concept. I’d much rather say “the egg broke because it fell on the floor” than find and solve the equations describing the time evolution of the egg-floor system.

      • “…It doesn’t really presuppose anything much, other than that it’s possible to construct a mathematical structure that to some degree of approximation maps on to some subset of external reality.”

        I think there is much more to say about this assumption. It’s not that easy to explain how to connect drawings on piece of paper (or mathematical model) with reality. Classical philosophy offers the theory of Forms as elegant explanation of this problem. I tend to see mathematical models (or maps) as pointing to these Forms i.e. formal causes. That’s why I think you can’t entirely drop notion of causality. However, formal causes are different from causality as you understand it. It would be more interesting to push the coversation back to physics but unfortunately I can’t follow you there.

      • I think it’s very interesting that external reality appears to map onto some of the mathematical structures that we’ve come up with. I’m not sure if we have any framework that allows us to talk about why such a mapping is possible, though – one that doesn’t to some extent start out by assuming that it is possible, that is. This could be my lack of knowledge about philosophy talking, though.

        I’m also not sure what assumptions historically went into the attempts to model things mathematically. I suspect it was to a large extent a case of people saying “let’s try this thing and see if it works”, with philosophical presuppositions justifying it being added retroactively when it turned it did work.

    • I second Handle’s reservations about concluding too much from the current cosmological evidence. In fact, I would not even be willing to agree that there is “overwhelmingly strong evidence” for inflation. Most of inflation’s “acheivements” are postdictions rather than predictions, and most of them could be explained some other way. (For example, maybe k=0, so there’s no “flatness problem”, and lot’s of things can produce a scale-invariant Gaussian power spectrum.) And I wouldn’t want my theology to depend on there not have been an infinitely long de Sitter expansion phase before the “hot” big bang or a big bounce like the LQG folks believe in or some other such thing.

      From a theist perspective, the big bang is not ontologically special. Yes, it needs an explanation, but no more so than any other event, moment in time, entity, and law of nature. The argument that it needs an explation must proceed the same way one would try to prove that any finite, contingent being needs an outside cause.

      • Hi Bonald,

        It seems to me that any evidence showing a beginning of the cosmos, regardless of the details, points to a creator. And astronomy is not going back to a steady state theory, is it?

        It seems to me that saying that the big bang is not ontologically special goes too far. It is of course possible to imagine that the pre-big-bang realm was not radically different from our own, differing only by being unknown. But could our realm generate its own big bang, leading to another cosmos of which we will never know, leading to future beings pondering with awe the idea of a time before their existence? If it can’t, then we do have reason to regard the moment of creation as something special.

        There just is something uncanny about a primordial creation event. When we ponder the origin of the Earth, we visualize a universe similar to the current one, but minus the Earth. But when we ponder the beginning of the whole thing, there is no familiar universe in which it is embedded. If the atheist simply says that we do not know about what came before, he is basically correct, although if God tells us we can know. But if the same atheist insists that it is more rational to assume that no God was involved, then he has departed from rationality.

        Yes, the big bang might not be ontologically special. But then again, it might be, if no ordinary physical realm existed before it in which it was nothing more than unknown but natural processes. It seems to me to be somewhat impious to regard the big bang, the origin of everything we know except God, as nothing more than another day at the cosmic office.

      • The steady state model is definitely ruled out. We can certainly say that the universe 13.7 billion years ago was very different from what it is now. But I’m not sure that that buys you very much. An inflationary cosmologist would just say that the main difference is that the inflaton field in our neck of the universe has rolled down its potential, and there’s no reserve of potential energy for another hot big bang. Some popular inflation models in fact do imagine fluctuations in the inflaton field and local bursts of inflation as a process that happens eternally if we consider the infinite extents beyond our visible universe. I’m not convinced myself that this is more than speculation, but I don’t object to it either.

        Also, I’m not saying that God wasn’t involved. He certainly was, but He’s been equally involved in every subsequent moment.

    • Wow…that was…AWESOME!!! To be honest, I couldn’t get past the first part of the original article…the is only so much Kalam/god of the gaps a person can suffer through. But your response was thoughtful, articulate, educated and civil. I would love to see your response to Alan’s reply below, if for no other reason than I enjoy reading your writing. :-)

      • Sure. But I’d like to point out first that Alan’s phrase, “You atheists…” is incorrect and without any basis since I am not an atheist and did not claim to be one. Talk about false assumptions. Pointing out logical errors in theistic arguments against atheism does not make one an atheist.

        Alan says:

        To have any confidence in atheism, one must assume it rather than reach it as a reasonable conclusion from evidence.

        This is simply untrue, and confuses the axiomatic ‘assume’ for the probabilistic and tentative ‘presume’. Unless one is stretching the meaning of words and using an idiosyncratic theory of epistemology. We can argue what ‘confidence’ should mean all day. Like I said, ‘mathematical proof’ is not what anyone is saying.

        But let’s try something different. It happens that we have an entire academic discipline devoted the question of how best to abduct hypotheses and determine and update one’s provisional beliefs about ontological reality given a certain statistical set of evidence and experiences. There is Bayesianism, and I strongly recommend this page’s discussion of the Most Probable Explanation (MEP).

        If I walk out onto my lawn in the morning and notice it is soaked and the ground is soggy, I could conclude, “The most likely explanation is that it rained last night.” My neighbor could say, “Aha! But you cannot yet prove that it wasn’t some teenager with a hose who targeted your particular lawn!” And he is right, I cannot prove it, but I can judge ‘rain’ as a superior explanation to ‘teenager’.

        On the other hand, if he says, “To have any confidence in the rain hypothesis, one must assume it rather than reach it as a reasonable conclusion from evidence.” then he is simply incorrect.

        One can be both confident and open-minded as to alternative possibilities and willing to change one’s mind upon receipt of new information.

        The theological questions are “How much of this religion’s cosmology relies on revelatory assertion or hearsay of the same?” and “Would someone completely cut off from a particular religion’s chain of transmitted traditional narrative, upon careful evaluation of all the evidence available, ever come to its same conclusions about cosmogenesis?” The answer to the latter question is “No.” And unless you want to pick a fight with empiricism that you are certain to lose, the answer to the former should be “100%”.

        I am not a fan of Gould, but his ‘Non-overlapping magisteria’ concept is useful for a man of faith (such as myself) who is comfortable with an exclusive compartmentalization of his religious life and beliefs apart from his scientific and empirical understanding of nature.

        Alan says

        And why is there no need to explain a cause? A cause does exist, and inquiring minds want to know.

        One possibility is that what happened prior to the big bang was a big crunch or some kind of collapsing singularity of all that energy and spacetime, perhaps in some universal-magnitude black hole. And what caused that? And what caused that in turn? Do we have any reason to believe it couldn’t have gone on indefinitely working by the dynamical laws of natural processes? There is no logical reason why that would be strictly impossible, hence there is no a priori reason to hypothecate a supernatural causer.

        But more to the point, my interpretation of the latest inflation data is that we simply cannot tell what happened prior to that moment because whatever traces of evidence may have existed were completely spoliated and irreversibly ripped apart during the original hyper-expansion, and any attempt to put the puzzle back together from the catastrophically mangled pieces is hopeless. Why isn’t it satisfactory to say, “Whatever the cause may have been, God or natural processes or anything else, we can never know it.”?

        Alan says

        Theology does not deal with predicting predictable events. Therefore your objection is irrelevant.

        All theology? Nonsense. Again, this is simply incorrect. Do not at least some theologies predict that if I die an unrepentant sinner that I will go to hell? Do not some say that I will be reincarnated into an undesirable life-form, or that karma will get me in this life or the next? Do they not make prophecies, or tell us the messiah will return and the sequence of events to expect on judgment day?

        Indeed, there is are questions of beatification. intercession, and canonization that all fall in the realm that is susceptible to empirical verification. Would claims of saintly healings and minor miracles ever get through a normal trial in a normal court? There is a perfectly good reason The Church discontinued the position of advocatus diaboli. There is also the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Well, we could forensically investigate whether the materials consumed actually transformed into blood and body.

        I could go on, but the point stands. Baldly asserting an objection is irrelevant does not actually make it irrelevant.

        Alan says,

        Mechanical natural laws cannot explain many things that are both real and important. You just assume that they can explain them.

        Again, not ‘assume’ but ‘presume’. Let’s look up the definition of ‘presume’ on google to make it clear, “Suppose that something is the case on the basis of probability.”

        So, for example, in a court proceeding, the law dictates all manner of presumptions on the basis of experience of which side’s claims are most consistent with ordinary experience. The burden of proof is on the opposing party, who is making the more unlikely claim, but who is nevertheless permitted to rebut the presumption should they be able to muster strong evidence.

        On occasion we set the presumption against common experience for other reasons, usually placing it on the party best able to develop the evidence, or against the state because we are worried about abuse of power. So, for example, every defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence, until that presumption is rebutted by very strong evidence, and he is proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. Not absolute mathematical certainty, just the ordinary high level of confidence needed to potentially take a man’s life.

        This is an excellent system, and not just for the law, which is only one of our institutions in which human beings have to decide, on the basis of limited evidence, which explanation of events is most likely. I would note that, in the law, with just a few exceptions, hearsay is not admissible into evidence because it is inherently unreliable. Something being repeated or republished countless times is just a very long chain of hearsay, and does not, in itself, provide us with any meaningful indicia of reliability.

        But anyway, I’d like a list from Alan of those, “many things that are both real and important.” and why he is so absolutely certain (judging from his use of language) that mechanical natural laws could never explain them, no matter how much new information we discovered. That’s an extraordinarily bold claim, depending on what he means by ‘real’, of course. If he means ‘empirically replicable and verifiable’, then he has proof of miracles, and I’d love to see it.

        This raises the question of, given the evidence at our disposal today, what is the set of the most probable and parsimonious explanations of what we observe, out of the whole set of all possible explanations? If we were to take the question to ‘trial’, then where should the presumptions be, and who should bear the burden of proof? Which claims are more extraordinary, and thus make it reasonable for us demand extraordinarily strong evidence?

        The case for materialism, based on our accumulated observations, scientific knowledge and understanding, says that the presumption is most appropriately placed on the empty-set for supernatural explanations. An alternative way of expressing that is to say that one presumes (as I do) that there is no overlap between the supernatural and the material, and any claim that there either requires a strong showing of evidence, or else is purely a matter of unverifiable, evidence-less faith alone. I choose faith alone.

        Alan says

        You judge between competing theories by examining the evidence. That’s as true in religion as in any other field.

        Ok, give me a claim about cosmogenesis from Christianity, and the piece of evidence besides hearsay that makes it more likely than, say, the Hindu version of events. Or give me one piece of evidence that would make a neutral, impartial, and disinterested observer believe that monotheism is much more likely than polytheism. Why wouldn’t that evidence or argument work against a trinitarian concept, and indeed against the idea of a Devil and a large body of supernatural angels and demons.

        Finally, Alan says

        You atheists declare anything that cannot be proven by your system to be non-objective, and then congratulate yourselves on possessing the only system that prove things objectively. You try to win by disqualifying your opponents.

        Again, not an atheist. And empiricism is neither my system not the atheists’ system, though you can blame Bacon and Hume and a few ancient Greeks too for stumbling upon the philosophy. The field of epistemology is concerned with these questions of what is knowledge, how can we come to know anything, how do we make the best guesses as to how things work and how they came to be, when can we trust or when can we be justifiably skeptical of the claims of other human beings, etc.

        This is not merely a question of science either. There are other institutions of inquiry – such as the law – which cannot escape the hard decisions concerning coming to conclusions based on a consideration of evidence.

        And the law does indeed disqualify certain kinds of evidence and argument that are not widely respected and recognized as being extremely reliable and trustworthy.

        Let’s use an example that would have been more controversial 340 years ago – “Spectral Evidence.” La Wik:

        Spectral evidence was testimony that the accused witch’s spirit (i.e. spectre) appeared to the witness in a dream or vision (for example, a black cat or wolf). The dream or vision was admitted as evidence. Thus, witnesses (who were often the accusers) would testify that “Goody Proctor bit, pinched, and almost choked me,” and it would be taken as evidence that the accused were responsible for the biting, pinching and choking even though they were elsewhere at the time.

        Increase Mather wrote an entire book, Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, Witchcrafts, infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are accused with that Crime trying to justify use of such evidence in a court of law, and to some success, since he was largely responsible for the insane execution of innocent people for the nonexistent crime of witchcraft. This was contemporaneous (1692) with Calef’s More Wonders of the Invisible World which justifiably ridiculed the whole fiasco.

        One has to ask oneself, “What went wrong here?” After all, the bible mentions witches, does it not? I’m sure Alan has a good answer.

        But whatever that answer is, it certainly excludes and disqualifies – or at least places an initial burden of a strong presumption against certain kinds of assertion, testimony, evidence and argument, because they are inherently unreliable, unreal, or otherwise untrustworthy.

        What this does is form a hierarchy of claims and inferences which we can rank according to their reliability and our relative confidence in their explanatory value. there is nothing about empiricism that is inherently incompatible with God or which makes it impossible to prove that God exists.

        If we were to record an inexplicable miracle today, say, the red sea parting, then that would be solid evidence for the existence of the supernatural far beyond our understanding, even though we could not hope to replicate it.

        It just so happens that we haven’t witnessed any such clear and public miracles throughout modern history. Or, at least, there is no claim of one with which I am familiar that can be substantiated with a sufficient amount of evidence to convince any reasonable skeptic that something miraculous did indeed occur.

        The deck is not stacked, the game is not rigged. And that is Alan’s claim, and he is wrong.

      • Handle,

        You say

        On the other hand, if he says, “To have any confidence in the rain hypothesis, one must assume it rather than reach it as a reasonable conclusion from evidence.” then he is simply incorrect.

        But you have seen rain. You have not seen atheism. Inaccurate analogy.

        One possibility is that what happened prior to the big bang was a big crunch or some kind of collapsing singularity of all that energy and spacetime, perhaps in some universal-magnitude black hole. And what caused that? And what caused that in turn? Do we have any reason to believe it couldn’t have gone on indefinitely working by the dynamical laws of natural processes?

        It’s my understanding that current physical theory shows that a succession of bangs followed by crunches would have to decrease in amplitude, so that there cannot have been an infinite succession of them in the past. An ultimate beginning still exists.

        Do not at least some theologies predict that if I die an unrepentant sinner that I will go to hell? Do not some say that I will be reincarnated into an undesirable life-form, or that karma will get me in this life or the next? Do they not make prophecies, or tell us the messiah will return and the sequence of events to expect on judgment day?

        OK, when I said that theology does not make predict predictable events, I was assuming you meant events that could be verified empirically, and without waiting for the end of the world. I was assuming that you were an empiricist, one for whom such events as the damnation of a person or the Return of Christ are fundamentally invalid. So yes, in this sense, theology can make predictions that could be confirmed or disconfirmed.

        I’d like a list from Alan of those, “many things that are both real and important.” and why he is so absolutely certain (judging from his use of language) that mechanical natural laws could never explain them, no matter how much new information we discovered.

        Many examples could be given, but time is short, so how can natural laws explain your consciousness? Even if it is caused by brain matter in motion (a questionable assumption), your consciousness is not identical to brain matter in motion. Thoughts are obviously fundamentally different from matter and its properties and its events, even if they are caused by same.

        The case for materialism, based on our accumulated observations, scientific knowledge and understanding, says that the presumption is most appropriately placed on the empty-set for supernatural explanations.

        Only if you assume (or presume, or whatever word you prefer) that natural processes can explain everything that needs to be explained. But how do you know that natural processes can explain whatever needs to be explained?

        Responding to my statement that we judge between competing religions claims by looking at the evidence, you said,

        Ok, give me a claim about cosmogenesis from Christianity, and the piece of evidence besides hearsay that makes it more likely than, say, the Hindu version of events. Or give me one piece of evidence that would make a neutral, impartial, and disinterested observer believe that monotheism is much more likely than polytheism. Why wouldn’t that evidence or argument work against a trinitarian concept, and indeed against the idea of a Devil and a large body of supernatural angels and demons.

        It works like this: There are facts which man must be told, because he cannot know them by his own efforts. He can know some things by his own efforts, but not, for example, how the cosmos originated, exactly what God is like, or how he can be safe from divine wrath. It is impossible for man to know these things by his own effort. In order to know these things, he must first ascertain which authority is the most trustworthy. It is primarily in this way that man can judge between different religions.

        And to judge between religions, you do not begin with the presumption that they are all mistaken when they refer to anything beyond the empirical. You look to the evidence they offer as to why one ought to believe their assertions.

        In the case of Christianity, the Founder differs in kind from the other founders. No other founder made his identity and his works the decisive factor in establishing his authority. The other funders simply claimed to deliver a true message, but Jesus claimed to be truth itself. And if the claims made about Christ in the New Testament are correct, then Jesus is God, and therefore his authority is established, and what the Bible says can be trusted.

        It just so happens that we haven’t witnessed any such clear and public miracles throughout modern history. Or, at least, there is no claim of one with which I am familiar that can be substantiated with a sufficient amount of evidence to convince any reasonable skeptic that something miraculous did indeed occur.

        But if the miraculous happened in previous times, or if it happened now but was not recorded in a manner you find satisfactory, then the supernatural would be true but you would not be aware of it.

      • Thank you! And again, awesome. My mind is a bit blown that you are not an atheist, but reading your other replies, I totally appreciate and respect your position.

        And thank you to the owner of this blog…this has been a very enjoyable (and civil) debate with people on all sides of this issue.

      • And yet, “collapsing singularity” is the “unprincipled exception” GRANTED the atheist and modern scientist in the debates…

        Only two “types” of a Singularity exist or could exist…

        Perfect God and Perfect Man.

        Or…

        Unique ONE TIME universe/multiverse wide material configuration.

        The Kurzweil “singularity” attempts to bridge the chasm. It cannot.

  3. Pingback: Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence | Reaction Times

  4. I would like to reply to this article point by point, for the most part, but before I do, I need to lay down some definitions, a basic assumption, and a few statements:

    Definitions: Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods. Agnostic – one who does not know for sure if gods exist. Evolution – the process by which living organisms have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. Abiogenesis – the origin of life.

    Assumption: you are looking for a real dialog with an honest, intelligent, truth seeking atheist/skeptic with an open mind and a true willingness to be brought to Jesus/God.

    Statement: I am such an atheist.

    Statement: Every self-described atheist I have ever met, read or listened to (including Richard Dawkins) allow that God is possible. They also allow that unicorns, dragons, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are possible. I too allow that God is possible, but I see no compelling evidence to believe that it exists.

    To the article:

    Part I: The Origin of the Universe

    Summary: You present the Kalam Cosmological Argument, with all of its flaws.

    You say:

    There is overwhelming scientific and philosophical evidence that the physical cosmos (hereafter “cosmos”) has not existed eternally. Therefore there was a time (or perhaps we should speak more generally and say “a domain”) in which there was no cosmos: no matter, energy, space or even time.

    Saying there is “overwhelming” evidence does not make it so. See B-theory of time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-theory_of_time). It is quite possible the cosmos has always been here.

    You say:

    Since the cosmos obviously does exist now, it seems obvious that some entity other than the cosmos must have caused it to come into existence. The only alternative is that sheer nothingness somehow “caused” the cosmos, an obvious impossibility.

    Whenever you use the word “obvious” it makes me ask “obvious to whom?”. If we take for granted that we do exist, it certainly doesn’t seem obvious to me that “some entity” caused it to come into existence. And I can think of a number of alternatives to your “sheer nothingness”, but none of them matter, for there is no evidence to suggest them, so they are just as logical as saying God did it. And since it is possible that the cosmos has always existed, it doesn’t need an alternative.

    You say:

    The typical atheist responds to all this by asserting that we do not know what caused the cosmos, therefore atheism (or at least agnosticism) is the preferred position.

    Agnosticism (as defined above as simply not knowing anything for certain) is the default position of humanity. We can never know anything for sure. Atheism is the default position for belief when it comes to gods. The default position is not believing and a skeptic takes the default position on all questions of belief. If you ask me if there is life on Mars, I would have to take the default position, which is to doubt the existence of everything until there is sufficient evidence to believe in it. I don’t just assume there is no life on Mars, I assume there is no life anywhere except the places for which I have sufficient evidence to believe it exists. In fact, I assume that nothing exists, and only believe in anything when there is sufficient evidence. This is the essence of skepticism.

    You say:

    Here’s the basic problem with that: If someone really doesn’t know what caused the cosmos, then the cause could be anything. That’s what “I don’t know” means. Therefore if the skeptic is serious in his claim, he cannot rule out the possibility of God. If the cause is unknown, it could have been God. After all, the cause would have to exist outside of matter, energy, space and time, and would have be unimaginably powerful if not omnipotent, and either unimaginably lucky or else unimaginably wise. It would have to have these attributes. And these are some of the primary attributes of the God of the Bible, the one true and living God.

    I have never met an atheist who ruled out the possibility of God. I have heard they exist, but, by and large, they are a straw man created by Christian apologists to talk about in articles such as this. I am not sure why “the cause” (if indeed one was needed) would have to be unimaginably powerful (the final straw isn’t particularly heavy, but it breaks the camel’s back), nor do I see why it would need to be either lucky or wise (and the God of the Bible seems to be neither of those, creating a people he needed to wipe out, and then sacrifice himself to himself in order to forgive).

    You say:

    Therefore the honest skeptic would have to say, “Yes, it could be God, but I prefer not to believe that.”

    This is close. The honest skeptic says, “Yes, it could be God, but there is no evidence to suggest it was.” The burden of proof is on you to prove it was God. Until you do, it makes no sense for me to believe it was. It could have been God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the final straw, or nothing at all. I lack belief in all of it until there is evidence.

    Part II: Evolution

    Summary: You confuse Evolution with Abiogenesis, and make some logically questionable statements.

    You say:

    Atheistic scientists and their fans claim that Darwinian, fully atheistic evolution (or, as they call it, “evolution”) is an established fact. But they also admit that science has not established the exact processes and sequence of events by which this atheistic evolution occurred.

    Evolution is established fact. DNA, fossils, and experimental science have proven conclusively that life evolved. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is the best (and only) peer-reviewed scientific theory to explain just how (and why) life has evolved the way it has. What science has not established is how life began from non-living material.

    You say:

    [The word “evolution” has a wide range of meanings. We focus on the meaning used by apologists for atheism: That life developed by completely naturalistic processes.]

    I have never heard any apologist for atheism use this definition of evolution. What you have defined, I suppose, is the atheist’s (or just plain scientist’s) Theory of Abiogenesis. Darwin certainly has nothing to do with the origins of life.

    You say:

    Question: If you don’t know how it occurred, how do you know that it occurred? The obvious answer: You don’t.

    Really? I honestly think if you re-read this and think about it for a bit you will realize that this just doesn’t make any sense. If leave my house and find a piece of paper on my doorstep, I may not know how it got there, but I know it got there. You, yourself, use this logic in Part I of your article. The cosmos exists, therefore, you say, it must have come to exist. You don’t know how that happened, but you know it happened.

    Much like the origins of the cosmos, the origins of life are still a mystery. Yet, there is still no evidence of anything outside of nature causing either. Until there is some evidence that God (or FSM or Santa) did it, a skeptic will not believe it.

    You say:

    The atheistic scientists and their fans are assuming (not proving) that God could not have had anything to do with the development of life. This being so, something like atheistic Darwinian evolution is the only possibility: With no God to intervene, the only possible scenario is a vast series of tiny random changes leading, luckily, to ourselves.

    Here you demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of both atheism and science. Scientists don’t just assume that God could not have anything to do with evolution, they assume that EVERYTHING could not have anything to do with evolution. They assume that Natural Selection could not have anything to do with evolution and proceed to develop experiments to provide evidence that it does. When they find a repeatable experiment that provides evidence, they share that experiment and results with other scientists and others perform the same experiments and share the results. When enough scientists agree that the evidence produced is conclusive, a model (or theory) is developed and then, and only then, do people stop assuming. God (and FSM and Santa) are just part of the things that are assumed to have no effect on anything. If you want skeptics to believe that they did, you will need to do some peer-reviewed science.

    You say:

    Therefore the concept of Darwinian atheistic evolution has literally zero force as evidence against God. It is nothing more than the only possibility that survives the assumption of no God.

    Darwinian atheistic evolution, and every peer-reviewed scientific theory, has literally zero force as evidence against God. Science is not interested in evidence against the existence of anything. You can’t (with science) prove something doesn’t exist, so it doesn’t try. I am not sure where you got the idea that Darwin (or any evolutionary biologist) wanted to disprove God.

    What more can you have than the only possibility that survives the default position (which is the assumption of no God, no FSM, no Natural Selection, no Santa, no anything)? Science is what is left after you have proven things exist when you start off assuming they don’t.

    Part III: Evidence about the Life of Christ

    Summary: You shift the burden of evidence.

    You say:

    The Bible, and a few other ancient books, gives testimony about Jesus. Atheists respond that these are just stories invented by the authors in order to spread a doctrine. Christians respond by pointing out various ways to argue that the biblical testimony is trustworthy.

    I am not a historicity of Jesus expert, but I have read a number of webpages. What I have found is that there is exactly one historically trustworthy non-scripture mention of Jesus, in Josephus, and it is this: “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”. That’s it. And even this was written 30 years after the supposed crucifixion.

    Nothing about riding into Jerusalem, nothing about the crucifixion and resurrection. Nothing.

    You say:

    Question: How do the atheists know that the biblical accounts are not accurate? Do they have independent evidence from the First Century which proves that Jesus of Nazareth was just a man, or even nonexistent? No, they do not. There are a few ancient sources claiming that Jesus was just a man, but these are hardly decisive.

    Atheists know that the biblical accounts are contradictory (see http://www.errancy.com/on-how-many-donkeys-did-jesus-ride-into-jerusalem/ and http://i.imgur.com/CBTiKeh.png), so therefore are at least unreliable.

    What kind of evidence would prove that Jesus did not exist? Lack of evidence is the best and only evidence of nonexistence. There are exactly zero contemporary mentions of Jesus. Not even mentions of him as “just a man”. Nothing.

    You say:

    All the atheists have is the assumption that Jesus as described in the Bible could never have existed. Under this assumption, they feel justified in rejecting all the arguments supporting the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Assuming atheism at the start, they arrive at the conclusion that the Jesus of Christianity is a myth. But that’s circular reasoning.

    A skeptic starts off not believing. You call this lack of belief the “assumption that Jesus as described in the Bible could never have existed”. Again, this assumption is the same assumption that Santa Claus does not exist, the assumption that there is no life on Mars, and the general assumption that things for which there is no evidence of existence do not exist.

    This is not circular reasoning, it is skepticism. Assume nothing exists. Collect evidence. Assume all things for which there is no evidence of existence do not exist, believe in the things for which there is convincing evidence.

    Part IV: *

    Summary: More shifting of the burden of evidence.

    You say:

    If you assume no God, or that knowledge of God is impossible, you get a system in which there is no God. A system in which you can discount all the evidence for Christianity. But it’s all based on a negative assumption. And there is no reason to assume the negative.

    The problem with this thesis is that all skeptics would adjust their system to include God if there was evidence for God. Evidence for Christianity is discounted because it does not meet scientific rigor, not because of some fallacious assumptions. There is no negative assumption, other than the assumption that things for which there is no evidence of existence do not exist. There is every reason to assume that, as assuming that things exist for which there is no evidence is, at the very least, non-scientific.

    You say:

    Most atheists won’t acknowledge that they are reasoning in a circle. They try to cover it up with various distractions. They will say that they actually do look to the evidence, but find it to be invalid. But they judge it to be invalid because they are assuming that God is impossible, and if he is impossible then any evidence that seems to point to him would have to be invalid.

    God is not impossible. I would love for there to be a God. Give me your evidence! Let us put it to peer-review!

    You say:

    When the sophisticated-sounding excuses are removed, it really is that simple. They choose to begin with unbelief.

    Of course they do. What else would make sense? Is the belief in God the only thing they should start with? Should they start with a belief in the FSM, Santa, and life on Mars as well? If God is the only thing, why?

    You say:

    But man is not omniscient. He cannot assume “no” as his answer. He must look to the evidence, not try to deny its fundamental validity.

    Man, far from being omniscient, knows nothing for certain. The only thing we can do is assume “no” and then collect the evidence for “yes”. The evidence leads us to what exists. No evidence, no belief.

  5. Question: How do the atheists know that the biblical accounts are not accurate? Do they have independent evidence from the First Century which proves that Jesus of Nazareth was just a man, or even nonexistent? No, they do not. There are a few ancient sources claiming that Jesus was just a man, but these are hardly decisive.

    Do you have evidence that Frodo and Gandalf didn’t exist? I’ve got several books (not just one, like your Bible) that tell the story of Frodo and Gandalf.

    Other than the Bible, which was written long after Jesus supposedly lived, there’s no evidence for his existence. There’s good reason to believe that the passage in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews that supposedly mentions Jesus is a 3rd Century forgery because Christian writers writing before the 3rd Century who quote Josephus don’t mention the passage and there’s no corresponding passage in Josephus’ The Jewish War. Ovid was reporting what Christians told him they believed and Tacitus was reporting what Ovid told him. Sorry, but other than the Bible, there’s no independent evidence that Jesus ever existed, let alone was Da Lawd.

    • Interestingly my later comment passed moderation but this one, which was posted a couple of hours earlier is still “awaiting moderation.” Is there a reason why this comment isn’t acceptable?

  6. Let us stipulate for the sake of argument that something other than the cosmos must have caused it to come into existence.

    The typical theist responds to this by asserting, without evidence, that the cause is an infinitely powerful and intelligent being with no limits. Exactly how this being came to exist is never explained; it just is. The cosmos cannot exist without a cause; but an enormously more complex and intelligent omnipotent being can.

    • Right. You see an analogous thing from atheists who nevertheless believe in extraterrestrial (non-theological) alien origins of humanity or certain artifacts of human civilization.

      If they think that humans had to be ‘planted’ in some way by some aliens, that raises the question, “Ok, but where did these planters come from? That sequence can’t proceed ad infinitum without some distinct mechanism of origination, and so what reason do we have to think that those alternative explanations wouldn’t apply to humanity as well?”

  7. I’m glad that our atheist responders have taken the time to give us some high-quality objections. This is what needs to happen for us to really communicate.

    I’m worried that both sides get off on the wrong foot when they invoke evidence and probability. Since Alan’s commenters have already alluded to Bayesian analysis, it should be clear why probabilistic arguments will never resolve issues of fundamental worldview. To get
    P(God | universe), one needs P(universe | God), P(God), and P(universe), and the prior probabilities can only come from one’s fundamental worldview. I myself am a theist, but I regard theist Bayesian arguments for theism (such as those put forward by Richard Swineburne) to be just as ultimately question-begging and invalid as similar arguments for atheism.

    That said, I can see why atheists would be more inclined to such an approach than theists, and it has nothing to do with the state of “the evidence”. The reason is that–please correct me if I’m wrong here–atheists don’t see atheism as itself a worldview-forming belief. The reason is that they imagine God to be just one more being. That is, if He exists, it means that everything else about the universe is the same as it would be if atheism were true, but there is also one more thing out there. However, theists see belief in God as a statement about being itself and the ultimate truth about everything.

    To give an example that may be easier to understand, suppose one wanted to come up with a probability-based-on-evidence approach to the answer of whether Platonic Forms exist. One obviously can’t do it; if you understand what a Form is supposed to be, you’ll know that it’s not just another thing out there that might or might not exist. Forms are supposed to be the ground of intelligibility of the whole material world; by their nature, one can’t sensibly observe them as members of the material world, but our ability to make sense of that world (supposedly) proves they must exist. Now, I’m not a Platonist, but the only way to decide whether to accept or reject Platonism is by first-principles metaphysical reasoning.

    Theist claims are similar. Like the Forms, God is a putatively necessary Being, meaning He is either an ultimately incoherent idea and cannot possibly exist, or if He is a coherent idea He must exist. The empirical probabilistic tricks we use to decide whether or not to believe in various contingent beings exist are of no help. Ask a theist what kind of universe would have God as its cause, and he will say “any kind of universe”. Ask an atheist what kind of universe would lack God (understood in this sense of a simple, purely actual ontological ground), and he will say “any kind of universe”.

    • An excellent comment.

      Bonald says

      it should be clear why probabilistic arguments will never resolve issues of fundamental worldview.

      A Rortian pragmatist would then say, “Fine, lets split the space of arguments up into those that can be resolved logically, probabilistically, and empirically, and those which cannot.”

      That raises the epistemological question of whether one can persuade a reasonable and neutral party find a claim in the latter category to more likely than its converse, and if so, then what are the valid means of doing so.

      The issue here is, “Does existence require – or necessarily imply – God?” An atheist (category 0) says, “No.” There are two kinds of theistic answers.

      Category A: No, but we still believe it. (divided into two subcategories)
      Category A1: Strictly as a matter of faith
      Category A2: Based on credible and reliable evidence beyond faith.
      Category B: Yes, as a matter of the nature of existence. (divided into two subcategories)
      Category B1: But I claim no other evidence.
      Category B2: And I claim other persuasive evidence as well.

      I would put myself in category A1, which completely segregates my religious life from empirical contradiction. I would guess that Alan is in B2.

      Returning to the question, if there is no probabilistic argument to get from any category to any other category, then is it hopeless (as I claim) or is there some remaining pathway?

      • If probabilistic arguments were the only sort of arguments that can do any intellectual work, then no. But they are not. On the contrary, probabilistic arguments are rather weak, compared to other sorts at our disposal; and as Bonald pointed out, they are simply inapposite to decide upon propositions in metaphysics, mathematics, and logic. Bayesian logic is no good for deciding upon the validity of Bayesian logic.

        So, there are a number of ways from Category A to Category B, even if there are no probabilistic ways. But they are not probabilistic.

        That said, the proposition “there are no probabilistic ways from Category A to Category B” is extremely strong, and would seem to be impossible to support on empirical grounds. Note that it is not itself a probabilistic proposition.

      • So a population that has absolutely no belief at all about the tooth fairy one way or the other would divide pretty equally between those who hide their teeth under the pillow and those who do not.

        Say what??? Do you honestly believe this? Do you live in a world where people do stuff which doesn’t make any sense???

        Atheism, and all a-isms, operate on the principal that things that exist leave evidence of their existence. Absence of evidence is the best and only evidence of absence.

        So let’s take your population of a-tooth-fairyists. Let’s assume that one day the president of the United States made a speech about the tooth fairy bringing him a dollar for the tooth he left under his pillow. This statement is evidence for the tooth fairy’s existence. Is it enough to be believed??? Not for me…and probably a bunch other afairyists…but I am willing to believe…I like the idea of dollars for teeth. So I do my own experiment and leave a tooth under the pillow. Next morning…no dollar. I (and millions of others, worldwide) do it again the next 5 nights. No dollars. We all share results and figure out that the president is either a liar or deluded and yell “The tooth fairy doesn’t exist!!!”. We really mean “There is no evidence for believing the tooth fairy exists”, but given our consistent and predictable experimental results producing no evidence where evidence should be produced, we feel comfortable positively stating that something doesn’t exist, even though, if pushed, we would admit that you can’t prove something doesn’t exist. From time to time, someone will pop up with an anecdotal story of their personal relationship with the tooth fairy and the dollar that was revealed only to them in a completely unreproducible and unverifiable way, but the plural of anecdote isn’t data, and we comfortably ignore them. If people suddenly started getting dollars…caught the transformation on video tape…and captured a fairy (which subsequently got a deal hosting the Tonight Show, and wasn’t vivisected or anything like that), there would be a whole lot less afairyists.

        So why, in your world, would people “divide pretty equally” between teeth hiders (when nothing ever happens to the teeth) and afairyists? I suppose some might be applying some version of Pascal’s Wager…if you don’t leave the teeth, you can’t ever get a dollar…and it might be true so it is safer to leave the tooth. Some might do it to be part of the teeth leaving community, with all of its pageantry and tradition. Some might do it because of pressure of their community and a desire to fit in. Some might do it because they just believe, no matter what the evidence.

        My point is, people don’t act randomly when faced with a lack of evidence. They make a decision based on the evidence (or conspicuous lack of it), and then act in accordance with that decision. They don’t need perfect knowledge to act, just enough to make that decision. Once made (and until changed by new evidence) their actions are consistent with those who positively state a negative.

        This is not what actually happens. Atheists act as if they have a warranted belief that God does not exist, when by your account they have no such warrant one way or the other, so far as they know or are willing to admit, and therefore no such belief.

        If I told you there was an elephant hiding in your kitchen, and it had been there for years, would you believe me? Assuming you wouldn’t, could we even go so far as to say you would act completely consistently with someone who believed that there was no elephant hiding in the kitchen for years, even though you couldn’t prove it? Would those actions be rational? Or would you, with equal probability, act as if there was one there, leaving out elephant traps?

        People say “God exists!”. We say “No he doesn’t!”, which should be read more as “Prove it!”. If God existed, there should be some God sized evidence. There isn’t. Because there isn’t, we are warranted in acting as if we believed God doesn’t exist. Again, when pushed, we will admit we can’t know God doesn’t exist, but that is a philosophical concession, not a practical one.

    • The reason is that–please correct me if I’m wrong here–atheists don’t see atheism as itself a worldview-forming belief.

      Nailed it! Atheism is a worldview-forming belief the way bald is a hair color or not collecting stamps is a hobby.

      • A belief that has no effect on one’s world view is a cipher. I doubt there is any such thing as a belief that does not affect one’s world view. Eo ipso, beliefs have to be *about* some aspect of one’s world, and thus cannot but play a role in one’s ideas about that world.

      • Atheism is a rejection of the Perfect God and Perfect Man… The True Singularities… And there are definite consequences to denying these Singularities… The first and most obvious consequence being the desire to “perfect man” through social engineering. Doomed to failure via conceptual stuntedness.

      • @Kristor – Atheism isn’t a belief. It is a lack of belief. Lack of belief isn’t a worldview. Lack of hair isn’t a color. Lack of collecting stamps isn’t a hobby. Skepticism, perhaps, is my world view. I suppose I believe that what is to believed must be supported by evidence. Does that make me an empiricist, Handle? I am not much of philosopher…I just like my beliefs to be supported by evidence.

        @thordaddy – I have no idea what the Perfect God and Perfect Man are, so, much like anything else I have never heard of and have no experience with, I do reject them. If you would like to provide evidence for these things, I certainly would consider them.

      • If atheism isn’t a belief, then atheists don’t believe in the truth of the proposition, “there is no God;” nor for that matter do they believe in the truth of the propositions, “there is a God,” or, “there may or may not be a God,” or even, “the notion of God is either incoherent or coherent.” If atheism isn’t a belief, then it is a completely vacuous philosophy; there’s nothing to it, it says nothing.

        If you are right about this, then any atheist asked what he thinks about God should respond, “no idea.”

        But alas, they don’t. On the contrary, many atheists seem to believe fervently in the truth of the proposition, “there is no God.” They act as if they do, anyway. They constantly crop up in discussions among theists, making arguments that they insist conclude things about God, which according to what you say here they don’t believe. Are they in bad faith with themselves, or are they just deeply confused?

        Or is it rather simply false to say that atheism isn’t a belief?

      • If atheism isn’t a belief, then it is a completely vacuous philosophy; there’s nothing to it, it says nothing.

        Bingo!!! Atheism only has meaning in a world where people believe in gods by default. It isn’t a philosophy. It is a reaction to the belief held by others that we find illogical. I don’t believe in god, or the tooth fairy, or dragons, or life on Mars. I am an atheist, an a-tooth-fairyist, an a-dragonist, and an a-life-on-Marsist. I don’t believe in an infinite number of things, and what they all have in common is that I find no compelling evidence to believe in them. Atheism says nothing, It isn’t a philosophy, vacuous or otherwise. It is the application of the default position to the question of gods. Nothing more, nothing less.

        If you are right about this, then any atheist asked what he thinks about God should respond, “no idea.”

        If you ask any atheist I have ever met about gods, they should, and most often do, respond, “I do not see any compelling evidence to believe in them.” That may come out as “they don’t exist”, as that really is the same thing, without all the agnostic trappings. It is the same as asking you if the tooth fairy exists. You would probably say “no”, but what you really mean is “I have no compelling reason to believe it does.”

        But alas, they don’t. On the contrary, many atheists seem to believe fervently in the truth of the proposition, “there is no God.” They act as if they do, anyway.

        Of course they do. Why would they act any other way? Even though we can’t be sure there is no tooth fairy, we certainly aren’t going to put teeth under our pillows. We act like the proposition “there is no tooth fairy” is true, because anything else is a waste of time. Same goes for god. Lacking belief in god leads to acting the same as believing in the truth of the proposition “there is no God”.

        Now there are certainly atheists who aren’t very articulate about these things. They have difficulty expressing the line between “no god” and “no evidence for god”, but if you press them, they basically express what I have outlined above.

        Or maybe you have met that straw man of an atheist who firmly believes there is no god. I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Perhaps if you view the comments of these atheists through what I have expressed, you will see that they are saying what I am saying, if not as precisely.

      • Lacking belief in god leads to acting the same as believing in the truth of the proposition “there is no God”.

        No. Lacking all beliefs about God should lead with equal probability both to complete abstention from religion and to regular church attendance, tithing, prayer and devotion, and all the rest of religious life. A lack of beliefs about x leads to zero information of behavior by beliefs about x. So a population that has absolutely no belief at all about the tooth fairy one way or the other would divide pretty equally between those who hide their teeth under the pillow and those who do not. If you asked either set why they do what they do, they’d all shrug and say, “no idea.”

        This is not what actually happens. Atheists act as if they have a warranted belief that God does not exist, when by your account they have no such warrant one way or the other, so far as they know or are willing to admit, and therefore no such belief.

      • Looks like I replied to the wrong chain…please scroll up to see my reply to your last post! Sorry!

      • One more thought:

        A lack of beliefs about x leads to zero information of behavior by beliefs about x.

        Atheists don’t lack any belief about God. I certainly believe that people believe (earnestly and honestly) in God. I also believe that if God existed, he would leave evidence for his existence. I also believe that I have seen evidence for God’s existence (people believing is HUGE evidence), but that evidence is not personally compelling. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence…and I just haven’t seen it.

      • Atheists don’t lack any belief about God.

        Well, that’s a welcome admission. Your earlier claim that they do lack any belief about God was risible. It was to that notion that I have been responding. I’m not sure what you hoped to gain from it. Why couldn’t you simply say from the get go, as you now do, “I don’t believe it is true that God exists, because I don’t yet have a reason to do so”? And why couldn’t you admit from the beginning, as you now do, that this belief of yours that “God exists” is false contributes to the formation of your view of the world, and of your behavior?

        It seems only fair that I answer your question why I assert that a population that held *no* beliefs about the tooth fairy would split about evenly between those who hide teeth for her and those who don’t. An act is a belief – or rather, a whole assemblage of beliefs – carried into practice. An absolute lack of belief about x would lead a person to behave in no particular way in respect to x.

        The reality of course is that no one ever behaves in that uninformed way. All our behavior that is not deranged by illness or the like is informed by propositions about reality. This is just another way of saying that people have or form beliefs about everything they encounter, and those beliefs shape their behavior. If they believe nothing else about some x, they believe at the very least that x is something they had better examine, so as to form some more definite beliefs about it. In such cases, they behave noncommittally in respect to x, until they find out enough about it to warrant some course of action or other (even if that course is only to ignore x).

      • Your earlier claim that they do lack any belief about God was risible.

        Please show where I ever claimed that. What I claimed, and still claim, is that atheist lack belief in the existence of God. If that was unclear, I apologize. Atheists have all sorts of beliefs about God…some believe that people who believe in God without evidence are mentally deluded.

        Why couldn’t you simply say from the get go, as you now do, “I don’t believe it is true that God exists, because I don’t yet have a reason to do so”?

        This is from my very first post on this topic: “I don’t believe in Santa, because I have no convincing evidence that Santa exists. Same goes for gods.” How does that material differ from “I don’t believe it is true that God exists, because I don’t yet have a reason to do so”?

        I have said, from the get go, as clearly and precisely as I can, atheists lack a belief in God because there is no evidence that God exists.

        And why couldn’t you admit from the beginning, as you now do, that this belief of yours that “God exists” is false contributes to the formation of your view of the world, and of your behavior?

        I do not believe “God exists” is false. I believe “things that leave no evidence for their existence are not worth believing in”. I believe “God exists” is unproven, and therefore not logically meaningful.

        Atheism is a product of my world view, not a contributor to it. If I had never heard of God or any gods, I would not live my life any differently. Do you think your lack of belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster contributes to your world view, or do you think your world view contributes to your lack of belief in the FSM???

        An absolute lack of belief about x would lead a person to behave in no particular way in respect to x.

        I have a couple of problems with this:

        1) You have replaced my words “belief in” with your words “belief about”. I have never talked about “belief about”. Stop talking about “belief about”. I am not interested in talking about “belief about”. :p

        2) This is clearly not true. Take two groups of people. One has a load of beliefs about the tooth fairy. Some believe and hide teeth. Some don’t (but believe others do) and hide teeth just in case (they believe it is possible). Some want their kids to believe (cause they believe that is cool), and trick them into believing in the tooth fairy. Their behavior is certainly modified with all sorts of teeth hiding activity. Take another group that has never heard of the tooth fairy. Their lack of belief will certainly impact their behavior, as in they are not going to hide teeth. People don’t just randomly hide teeth. Lack of belief about x tends to lead people to not do odd/unusual things associated with x.

        3) If this statement was rephrased to read “An absolute lack of belief about x would not lead a person to behave in a particular way in respect to x”, I would agree with it. That is not what you wrote. If I never heard of the tooth fairy, I am unlikely to hide teeth, unless it was based on some other belief.

        The reality of course is that no one ever behaves in that uninformed way.

        Of course we do!!! There have been thousands of gods worshipped in the history of humanity, many we have never heard of, that have thousands of rules. We are totally uniformed of these rules, so we blissfully ignore them. We get away with this because there is no evidence that these rules have any impact on us. We get away with this because these gods don’t actually exist (in as far as we can be sure anything doesn’t exist). And while I am informed of the God of the Bible’s rules, I also (blissfully) ignore them for the same reasons…though in a more informed way.

      • Your earlier claim that [atheists] do lack any belief about God was risible.

        Please show where I ever claimed that.

        OK. You said:

        Atheism isn’t a belief. It is a lack of belief.

        When I then said:

        If atheism isn’t a belief, then atheists don’t believe in the truth of the proposition, “there is no God;” nor for that matter do they believe in the truth of the propositions, “there is a God,” or, “there may or may not be a God,” or even, “the notion of God is either incoherent or coherent.” If atheism isn’t a belief, then it is a completely vacuous philosophy; there’s nothing to it, it says nothing.

        You responded by saying:

        Bingo!!!

        I accept your apology.

        You write:

        I do not believe “God exists” is false. I believe “things that leave no evidence for their existence are not worth believing in.” I believe “God exists” is unproven, and therefore not logically meaningful.

        That a proposition is not proven does not entail that it is not logically meaningful. For example, “2 + 2 = 5” is not proven, but it is meaningful. That’s the only way its truth value can be ascertained.

        But that’s neither here nor there. In logic, -(-p) = p, regardless of what p says, and whether or not it is meaningful. Thus, “I do not believe “God exists” is false” is a different way of saying, “I believe “God exists” is true.” You don’t in fact believe that “God exists” is true. Therefore, inescapably, you believe that “God exists” is false.

        Why are you so cagey about this? Just go ahead and admit that you think “God exists” is false. Then you can produce the evidence that backs up your belief. It’s an extraordinarily sweeping claim, so your evidence is going to have to be extraordinarily strong. ;-)

        You write:

        [If, “An absolute lack of belief about x would lead a person to behave in no particular way in respect to x,”] was rephrased to read “An absolute lack of belief about x would not lead a person to behave in a particular way in respect to x,” I would agree with it.

        The two statements mean exactly the same thing, so I am content with your rephrasing. Glad we agree about this.

        You write:

        The reality of course is that no one ever behaves in that uninformed way.

        Of course we do!!! There have been thousands of gods worshipped in the history of humanity, many we have never heard of, that have thousands of rules. We are totally uniformed of these rules, so we blissfully ignore them. We get away with this because there is no evidence that these rules have any impact on us.

        Blissfully ignoring them is not an uninformed way of behaving towards those gods and their rules. Deciding to ignore something one knows almost nothing about is an informed decision – poorly informed, but informed nonetheless (we are not required to learn absolutely everything about x in order to make a decision about how we shall respond to it)(indeed, the exigencies of finite temporal life generally preclude any exhaustive comprehension of anything). As I said:

        … people have or form beliefs about everything they encounter, and those beliefs shape their behavior. If they believe nothing else about some [such] x, they believe at the very least that x is something they had better examine, so as to form some more definite beliefs about it. In such cases, they behave noncommittally in respect to x, until they find out enough about it to warrant some course of action or other (even if that course is only to ignore x).

        As it originally stood, this statement was admittedly less than perfectly clear. I have inserted the bracketed text to make it clearer.

        Almost always, our investigations of the things we encounter end with a decision that they are fit to be ignored. Almost always, this decision is taken preconsciously. Almost always, then, any datum that makes it to consciousness has been taken to be worthy of our conscious attention, so far as we now know, because we don’t yet know quite what to make of it; and so learning more about it will generally be involved in our project of deciding how to respond to it. Almost always, this process of conscious learning ends in the decision that the datum in question is fit to be ignored. If therefore you find yourself very often aware of some proposition, much less caring about it, and interested in what others are saying about it, the likelihood is that you are not yet settled in mind about it; you have not yet quite finished thinking about it, in a way that leaves you wholly satisfied and at rest. So you worry at it, and test your thinking. This is not the way a blissful decision to ignore it would look.

      • I accept your apology.

        Now that (hopefully) you have gotten all that out of context cutting and pasting out of your system, could you maybe show me (in my own words) where I claimed that atheists “lack any belief about God”, cause that series of blockquotes didn’t contain it. Please and thank you.

        And if you thought my “Bingo” was referring to anything other than the quote which actually proceeded it in my post, please go back and read my post again. We agree that atheism says nothing, it is a hollow and meaningless position. It is only made important by the fact that soooo many people hold even more hollow and more meaningless positions, and we atheists wish to differentiate ourselves from those that hold those positions.

        Being an atheist should be (and, hopefully one day will be) as meaningless and hollow as saying “I don’t believe in Snorglefarx.” What is a Snorglefarx? I have no idea…I just made the word up. But you know, I really don’t believe in them, because I have no evidence that they exist. Asnorglefarxism is meaningless and hollow. It is the product of a skeptical world view, just like atheism. All a-isms are meaningless and hollow and products of a skeptical world view…

        For example, “2 + 2 = 5” is not proven, but it is meaningful.

        2+2=5 is more than not proven, it is false, and this makes it meaningful. The final digit of pi is unproven, and therefore logically meaningless.

        But that’s neither here nor there. In logic, -(-p) = p, regardless of what p says, and whether or not it is meaningful. Thus, “I do not believe “God exists” is false” is a different way of saying, “I believe “God exists” is true.” You don’t in fact believe that “God exists” is true. Therefore, inescapably, you believe that “God exists” is false.

        If p = “god exists is true”
        then
        -p = “god exists is false”
        therefore
        -(-p) = “it is not true that god exists is false” or “god exists is true”.

        However,

        If p = “I believe god exists is true”
        then
        -p = “I do not believe god exists is true”
        therefore
        -(-p) = “It is not true that I do not believe that god exists is true” or “I believe god exists is true”

        There is no logical connection between “I do not believe “God exists” is false” and “I believe “God exists” is true.” They simply are not logically equivalent.

        If p=”I do not believe “God exists” is false”
        then
        -p = “I believe that “God exists” is false”
        therefore
        -(-p) = “It is not true that I believe “God exists” is false” or “I do not believe “God exists” is false”

        I have little hope you will follow this…but there it is.

        Not sure what you do for a living, but I program computers (or I used to…do more sales and management now, but still get my hands dirty every once in a while). One thing you have to be good at when programming computers is logic…and you have to be very very precise with conditionals.

        Why are you so cagey about this? Just go ahead and admit that you think “God exists” is false.

        I am not being cagey, I am being precise. “I do not believe that “God exists” is false” does not equal “I believe that “God exists” is true”. If you don’t get that, I am not sure how I can help you.

        Ok…Let’s say I don’t know what time it is. I am in a room without windows…no clocks. I have no reason to believe it is noon, but I also have no reason to believe it is not noon. Do you think that “I have no reason to believe it is not noon” is the same as “I believe it is noon”? Are you getting hung up with the “I do not believe” = “I have no reason to believe” word transition???

        I have no reason to believe “”God exists” is false”. When it comes to the question of existence, I have no reason to believe “”anything exists” is false”. That’s because you can’t give evidence for non-existence, so reasons simply don’t exist (and I can’t prove it)!

        So where does that leave us? I must logically stipulate that anything can exist (because I have no reason to believe it doesn’t), including God. However, my skeptical world view bails me out and allows me to simplify life by only believing in the things for which there is conclusive evidence, and not worry about proving the other things to not exist.

      • … could you maybe show me (in my own words) where I claimed that atheists “lack any belief about God”

        You said, “Atheism isn’t a belief. It is a lack of belief.” Now, true, you didn’t say, “Atheism is a lack of any belief *about God.*” Your statement was far, far stronger and more sweeping: you said, “Atheism is a lack of belief,” period full stop. Under that definition of atheism, as written, not only do atheists lack any beliefs about God, they lack *all beliefs whatsoever.* Now, I figured you just couldn’t mean to say that, quite; for the statement as written by an atheist would be self-refuting. So, I took the far more careful and conservative route of taking you to mean only that atheists lacked any beliefs about God.

        And if you thought my “Bingo” was referring to anything other than the quote which actually proceeded it in my post, please go back and read my post again.

        I said, “If atheism isn’t a belief, then it is a completely vacuous philosophy; there’s nothing to it, it says nothing.” You then quoted that statement of mine and said, “Bingo!!!” I took this as an expression of strong agreement with the quoted statement, as if you had said, “Amen,” indicating that you took the statement you seconded as an accurate reflection of your own convictions. Did you mean it in some other way? If not, then effectually you took “atheism says nothing” as a fair statement of your conviction that atheism is totally devoid of propositional content – that there’s nothing in it to be believed, this being the only way that you could have said that it is “not a belief.” If you were right about that, then neither “God exists” nor “God does not exist” nor any other proposition about God whatsoever could be either doubted or credited by a doctrinaire and consistent atheist.

        I think you were wrong to suggest that atheism has no beliefs – it was to that risible assertion that I was mostly moved to respond in the first place – and now you seem to be saying that you do after all agree that atheism has beliefs, and asserts propositions. Which is fine. We seem to be on the same page about that, when push comes to shove.

        Or wait, not so fast, for you go on immediately to say that, “We agree that atheism says nothing, it is a hollow and meaningless position.” Well, we don’t agree about that; I disagree with you about that. I think atheism definitely does assert meaningful propositions. You do not.

        Your thinking on this score seems quite muddled to me.

        You go on to say, “It is only made important by the fact that soooo many people hold even more hollow and more meaningless positions, and we atheists wish to differentiate ourselves from those that hold those positions.” But this makes no sense. You say that atheism is devoid of meaning – that it is incoherent nonsense, not even wrong. This assertion seems false on its face, but let’s stipulate to it: the semantic content of atheism is zero. In so saying, you have not violated logic. But when you then suggest that there could be other doctrines with semantic content of less than zero, you wander off into irrationality. But, as someone espousing a philosophy that according to you is utterly meaningless and nonsensical – your characterization of atheism – I suppose this marginal dose of unreason is immaterial.

        2+2=5 is more than not proven, it is false, and this makes it meaningful. The final digit of pi is unproven, and therefore logically meaningless.

        No. A meaningless statement cannot have truth value, because it doesn’t actually say anything, and so does not say anything that is either true or false. You cannot demonstrate the truth value of a statement that cannot be understood in the first place. To show that a statement is true or false, you have to be able to ascertain what it is saying. You can’t decide whether “the final digit of pi” is unproven unless you can first tell what you mean by “the final digit of pi.” Once you have specified the meaning of “the final digit of pi,” then and only then can you proceed to figure out whether there is such a thing. That pi has no final digit does not mean that “the final digit of pi” is meaningless, but only that it indicates something that does not exist. And it is perfectly possible to indicate the nonexistence of something in a meaningful way. You have been doing it yourself. You’ve been indicating that the beliefs of atheism don’t exist. If you were right, that would not mean that the notion of atheist beliefs is meaningless. It would mean only that they didn’t turn out to exist.

        To see what I mean, try and figure out whether “x = y” is true. You can’t, right? You need first to find out what x and y mean. If they don’t mean anything, there’s no way to get started.

        With respect to your parsing into the logical calculus of your statement “I do not believe “God exists” is false,” I certainly do follow you; it’s not like it’s complicated (and I have both programmed computers and chopped a lot of symbolic logic). But your symbolic logic is a lot easier to follow than your writing!

        I simply mistook what you wrote. I thought you meant to say something like, “So far as I am concerned, it is false that ‘God exists’ is false.” Prima facie, that still seems a fair reading of “I do not believe ‘God exists’ is false.” And that reading is indeed exactly equivalent in logic to, “So far as I am concerned, ‘God exists.’” To say that it is false that “it is false that God exists” *just is* to say that God exists.

        But it appears to me now that you meant rather something like, “I don’t mean to say that I definitely believe “God exists” is false.” And it is certainly possible to hold to the truth of that statement, and at the same time hold to the truth of the statement, “I don’t mean to say that I definitely believe “God exists” is true, either.”

        It all boils down to whether we are talking about whether or not God exists – a question with only two possible answers – or about the state of your belief, which could vary across a broad continuum. I thought you were talking about the former, when apparently you were talking about the latter.

        Your concluding paragraph seems fair to me. You agree that God might exist, but you haven’t run into anything yet that compels you to credit the notion that he does. Until you do, you are content to leave the question open, without committing yourself one way or another. To me, that sounds like agnosticism, rather than atheism. But then, I don’t think, as you do, that atheism is just meaningless nonsense – empty handwaving and the blowing of the wind.

      • (Fair warning, I am done here. You have proven yourself either A) to not understand what I am saying in context or B) to be willing to manipulate my meaning using context unaware cutting and pasting. I will correct the errors in your last post, but I will play the context switching game no more.)

        You said, “Atheism isn’t a belief. It is a lack of belief.”

        I don’t know how I could have been any more clear in the thousands of words I have written in the comments to this post. I will. for your sake, quote the one time I specifically defined atheism here: “Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods.” Anytime you see me say anything about an atheist and his lack of belief, it has to do with the existence of gods. I am sorry if that was confusing to you, but I am fairly certain it wasn’t.

        So, I took the far more careful and conservative route of taking you to mean only that atheists lacked any beliefs about God.

        Or you could have read what I had written on many other posts and actually tried to comprehend what I was saying instead of making up your own meaning that was completely inconsistent with everything else I wrote. But you keep doing that, cause it makes you look smart! :/

        I said, “If atheism isn’t a belief, then it is a completely vacuous philosophy; there’s nothing to it, it says nothing.” You then quoted that statement of mine and said, “Bingo!!!”

        I completely and totally agree with every part of that statement. 1) Atheism isn’t a belief. 2) It is a completely vacuous philosophy. 3) There is nothing to it. 4) It says nothing.

        The only reason the word exists is because people believe in gods without evidence and we need a way to easily identify ourselves as not that. Asnarglefaxism is not a belief, it is a completely vacuous philosophy, there is nothing to it, and it says nothing. It also isn’t a real thing cause no one believes in snarglefax…whatever the hell snarglefax is.

        If you were right about that, then neither “God exists” nor “God does not exist” nor any other proposition about God whatsoever could be either doubted or credited by a doctrinaire and consistent atheist.

        Halleluja!!! I think you may actually be getting it. Atheism says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the existence of God. It simply says “I have no evidence to believe God exists.”

        I think you were wrong to suggest that atheism has no beliefs.

        Being a non-atheist, you might want to actually listen to what an actual atheist tells you it means to be an atheist, instead of assuming you know what it means. It makes you look like less of a know-it-all.

        now you seem to be saying that you do after all agree that atheism has beliefs, and asserts propositions.

        Where on earth do I do that?!? I “Bingo!!!” your statement that atheism has no beliefs (it is simply a lack of belief in gods). I proudly proclaim that atheism says nothing!!! Are you really reading what I am writing, or are you just propping up your own pre-suppositions on the letters I type???

        I never ever ever said that atheism has beliefs or asserts propositions. Please go back and read what I wrote and show me where I do!!!

        Well, we don’t agree about that; I disagree with you about that. I think atheism definitely does assert meaningful propositions. You do not.

        Which one of us is an atheist? Maybe that person should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to describing what they are?

        Your thinking on this score seems quite muddled to me.

        Oy…really…I just…ugh.

        But this makes no sense. You say that atheism is devoid of meaning – that it is incoherent nonsense, not even wrong.

        Saying it says nothing and is empty certainly isn’t saying it is nonsense. The empty set is empty, but it certainly isn’t nonsense. Atheism is a lack of belief (in the existence of God). It is the default position applied to the question of God. It says nothing, but it isn’t nonsense. I don’t think you will get this…you there it is.

        This assertion seems false on its face, but let’s stipulate to it: the semantic content of atheism is zero.

        When you say things like this, I almost think it is possible you will get what I am talking about (though your foray into p=-(-p) really makes me think you won’t).

        But when you then suggest that there could be other doctrines with semantic content of less than zero, you wander off into irrationality.

        That is exactly what I am saying. Atheism is the default position. It says nothing. A doctrine which says something illogical (like moving from the default position without evidence) is irrational. Perhaps I am a bit too metaphorical in how I describe it…but I honestly don’t think that is the problem. The problem seems to be that you have a concept of what it means to be an atheist and you are unwilling to accept an atheist who tells you that you are wrong.

        To me, that sounds like agnosticism, rather than atheism.

        You are out of step with what people who call themselves atheists believe they are.

      • Taggard, honest, I’m not trying to play “gotcha” with you, or quote you out of context, or knock down straw men, or anything of the sort. That would be a waste of my time, and also deadly boring to me: better to burn hours watching fail videos. I’m an honest interlocutor, honestly trying to understand what you are saying, and am having a lot of trouble, because your writing is unclear. I’m not saying you are stupid (as you have several times indicated you think I am), or that I am smart, or anything like that. I get the impression rather that you are just going too fast, and not writing carefully enough. That can create a lot of confusion about what you are trying to say. E.g., my (honest) misprision that when you said, “I do not believe “God exists” is false,” you meant to say that you think it false that “’God exists’ is false.” Can you see how an honest reader would take it that way? Because I am such a one, and that’s how I took it.

        To take another example, you call yourself an agnostic as well as an atheist. Do you see how this could lead to some confusion, especially when you have insisted that you think atheism is a lack of any belief about the existence of God one way or another – that, i.e., it is *exactly* what almost everyone means to indicate by the term “agnosticism”? Do you see how this rhetorical muddiness could lead to the impression that you yourself are somewhat confused on the question? Do you see that it is indeed a muddle?

        To take yet another example, you say in your most recent comment that you have only defined atheism once in this thread (going on to define an atheist (rather than the doctrine of atheism) as one who lacks belief in all gods). But this is just not accurate. Not counting your last comment, you’ve said of atheism that:

        1. It is [not] a world forming belief.
        2. It is not a belief.
        3. It is a lack of belief.
        4. It is not a philosophy.
        5. It is a reaction to the beliefs of others.
        6. It says nothing.
        7. It is an application of the [i.e., your] default position [of skepticism] to the question of gods.
        8. It does not lack any belief about god.
        9. It believes that if god existed, he would leave compelling evidence for his existence.
        10. It lacks belief in the existence of god.
        11. It has adherents who have all sorts of beliefs about God.
        12. Its adherents lack belief in all gods.
        13. It is hollow and meaningless.
        14. It is completely vacuous.
        15. There is nothing to it.

        In the foregoing list, I have linked to at least one instance of each of these statements of yours about what atheism or atheists do or do not advance. Notice that they don’t all agree. Do you see that? Do you see how the disagreements among your statements about atheism could lead to confusion – or seem to indicate it?

        I got the passing impression that you might be agreeing that atheism asserts some propositions from your irate request: “show me (in my own words) where I claimed that atheists ‘lack any belief about God.’” You seemed quite upset that I should think you had said any such thing. So I figured that you wanted to qualify your earlier sweeping claim that atheism had zero beliefs.

        But then I was disabused by your very next sentence, which said, “atheism says nothing, it is a hollow and meaningless position.”

        Do you see the problem?

        Now, I get what you are trying to say, I really do: atheism consists in utter agnosticism one way or the other whether any gods exist, that results from a failure on the part of atheists to apprehend compelling evidence of their existence, so that a consistent atheist has to answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I don’t know.” I hope this is an accurate and fair statement of your position – it certainly is meant to be!

        So far so good. I’ll stipulate to this definition of atheism, at least in converse with you. As totally ignorant about whether God exists, your atheism can vouchsafe no arguments against theism – can’t say that theism is irrational (how could it know?), can’t even say that theism is not warranted by the evidence (again, how could it know?). All it can say is that neither theism nor its denial are warranted by the evidence it has yet itself understood. It is a critique, not of theism or theists, but of the capacity of its own adherents to understand reality. It isn’t even about God at all, really.

        This is not of course to say that no critiques of theism are possible to the atheist, only that they are not possible to him qua atheist. He can criticize theism, but not on the basis of his own avowed ignorance: “I don’t know” is not an argument. Any such critiques must rather arise from discourse in domains whereof he can confidently claim knowledge: logic, natural history, metaphysics, or the like. This sounds promising: it sounds like a suitably humble basis for really fruitful substantive discussions between theists and atheists, in which both sides are able to learn.

      • Ok, I will take you at your word, and keep on with this. I think we are mighty close to being done here anyway, as what you write at the end of your last post is gosh darn close.

        One quick thought, I have never said you were stupid! (If I did, I apologize, sincerely.) If I thought anything unflattering, it was that you were manipulative. I guess I assumed a level of understanding of basic atheist thinking, or that you read and understood my original response to the original article. More on that below.

        That can create a lot of confusion about what you are trying to say. E.g., my (honest) misprision that when you said, “I do not believe “God exists” is false,” you meant to say that you think it false that “’God exists’ is false.” Can you see how an honest reader would take it that way? Because I am such a one, and that’s how I took it.

        Honestly, I don’t get this confusion. You accuse me of not writing carefully enough when you, clearly, are not reading carefully enough, or at least not taking what I write in all of its context and take every new statement as a brand new definition of the original concept. When I clearly started this entire conversation out with “An atheist is one who lacks belief in gods” and then say “I do not believe “God exists””, I honestly do not get how anyone could think what I meant was “I believe god does not exist”. But I have been discussing atheist thought with atheists for years, and this is my first real attempt to interact with theists on a forum like this, so perhaps I need to adjust my expectations of my audience. I tried to do that with my opening post…with the definitions of the words I use as I use them. But I can be even more clear in the future.

        Do you see that it is indeed a muddle?

        No, I don’t. But that is because I first saw this image (http://lh3.ggpht.com/-q2d4A4N5arw/TmEoB9jCjOI/AAAAAAAAC5k/daRnstnWPJE/Agnostic%252520v%252520Gnostic%252520v%252520Atheist%252520v%252520Theist.png?imgmax=800) probably 15 years ago, and assume it is known to anyone reading my writing. This is a bad assumption and I will be make sure this is part of my intro material in the future.

        I think the biggest problem we had communication is that you are using the theist’s definition of atheism and agnosticism. I am using the atheist’s. The theist’s version is outdated and not used by modern atheists. If you really want to talk to a modern atheist, at the very least you should know what they mean when they say “atheist” and “agnostic”. The image above is a very handy chart for getting what we are saying.

        1. It is [not] a world forming belief.

        15. There is nothing to it.

        You are probably going to find this very frustrating, but…
        1) I agree with this statement.
        2) I agree with this statement.
        3) I agree with this statement.
        4) I agree with this statement.
        5) I agree with this statement.
        6) I agree with this statement.
        7) I agree with this statement.
        8) While I agree with this statement, the wording is kinda iffy. Belief “about” God is immaterial to atheism. Atheists could have beliefs about god…they could also have been raised in a jungle by wolves and have no beliefs about god at all. Restate this to read “it does not require one to lack any belief about god.” and I am happy.
        9) While I agree with this statement, it is probably overreaching to attach this to atheism. This is more a statement about skepticism.
        10) I agree with this statement.
        11) I agree with this statement.
        12) I agree with this statement.
        13) I agree with this statement.
        14) I agree with this statement.
        15) I agree with this statement.

        I don’t see where they disagree. I think they are all aspects of skeptical thought applied to the question of the existence of gods, vis a vis, atheism.

        Which ones, in particular, do you think contradict one another???

        But then I was disabused by your very next sentence, which said, “atheism says nothing, it is a hollow and meaningless position.”

        Do you see the problem?

        I honestly don’t. Atheism has nothing to do with “beliefs *about* God”. I never said it did. You brought that up. I said stop. Why did you bring up “beliefs *about* God” in the first place? It really seems you need to believe that atheism says *something*. You push back so hard on this concept, why???

        Now, I get what you are trying to say, I really do: atheism consists in utter agnosticism one way or the other whether any gods exist

        This is not correct. Atheism and agnosticism are two entirely different things. Atheism is about belief, Agnosticism is about knowledge. You conflate the two. This is probably my fault, as I am both, and my arguments come from both.

        This needs to be simplified to read “atheism is an utter lack of belief in gods”.

        that results from a failure on the part of atheists to apprehend compelling evidence of their existence

        Really? You need to get all pejorative? Let’s restate this as “that results from the perceived lack of compelling evidence of their existence”. Do you see the difference in those two versions?

        so that a consistent atheist has to answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I don’t know.”

        Almost. Atheism is not about knowledge, it is about belief. Atheism makes no statements of knowledge. As an agnostic, I have to “answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I don’t know.””. As an atheist, I have to “answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I do not believe.””.

        Do you get the difference there???

        I hope this is an accurate and fair statement of your position – it certainly is meant to be!

        It isn’t. This is an accurate and fair statement of my position: “atheism is an utter lack of belief in gods” “that results from the perceived lack of compelling evidence of their existence” so that a consistent atheist has to “answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I do not believe.””

        You need to take the question of knowledge out of your writing about atheism.

        It isn’t even about God at all, really.

        Oh your God, yes!!! It isn’t about anything!!! It says nothing! I agree with the core of the entire paragraph I cut this last line from, though you get a bit pejorative with “evidence it has yet itself understood” and “capacity of its own adherents to understand reality”. Give those a more neutral tone and you have hit the nail on the head!

        This is not of course to say that no critiques of theism are possible to the atheist, only that they are not possible to him qua atheist.

        Bingo!!!

        Any such critiques must rather arise from discourse in domains whereof he can confidently claim knowledge: logic, natural history, metaphysics, or the like.

        YES!!! YES!!! YES!!!

        We are soooo close here! If you could remove a few last assumptions from your words (like the idea that there actually is evidence for the existence of gods, and atheists just fail to comprehend it) and separate agnosticism from atheism, I think you will actually get what atheists mean when they say they are atheists.

      • Taggard, we do seem finally to be talking the same language – at least, I now understand a lot better what you mean by atheism and by agnosticism, and I understand how you could be both at the same time. The graphic to which you link – which I had never seen before – was very helpful.

        One tip I can give you is that I do think you need to work a bit harder on being extremely careful to remain consistent in your use of terms, from one comment to the next. You took me to be quoting you out of context, when really all that was happening was I was saying, “wait a minute, right up there he said something different; which is it?” You are not going to find a more careful reader than I, or a more honest. And I have decades of experience at reading difficult philosophical texts very closely and carefully. If I’m confused by your rhetoric, then there is a problem with your rhetoric.

        You ask which of your statements I enumerated a few comments ago disagree with each other. #6 contradicts #8, and #9 contradicts #14.

        Your last paragraph is the beginning of substantive discussion between atheists and theists, and nicely demonstrates the argument of Alan’s post above. You write:

        If you could remove a few last assumptions from your words (like the idea that there actually is evidence for the existence of gods, and atheists just fail to comprehend it) …

        But whether there is evidence for the existence of God *just is* the matter of the disagreement between theists and atheists. It’s the very thing we talk about with each other. If theists were to go ahead and assume that there is no evidence for the existence of God, why we’d be atheists, just as Alan says. We don’t do that, precisely because we think there really truly is evidence for the existence of God – not that we’ve merely assumed that it exists, but that we’ve discovered it in reality. Instead, what we do is try to show atheists the evidence we apprehend so plainly, and which – having concluded to atheism – they must have failed to apprehend.

        Chief among the evidence, from my perspective, is the evidence from metaphysics and logic. I can appreciate that ontological and cosmological arguments are not everyone’s cup of tea, and that many people would like to see more concrete, in your face demonstrations – walking on water, resurrections, cats and dogs living together, the whole nine yards – but in the final analysis such events could in principle all be understood naturalistically. Indeed, they would have to be susceptible of naturalistic explanation, for if they were to take place in our world without decohering its causal nexus, they would perforce have to fit seamlessly with nature as she truly is. They would not therefore suffice to prove the existence of God. They would rather at most *indicate* the existence of God, as indeed theists have always found that nature everywhere nobly does – the heavens are telling, pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua, etc.

        NB that the fact that a phenomenon is explicable naturalistically does not at all mean that it is not an act of God, or influenced by him. If he exists, there could be no such thing as a phenomenon he did not influence.

        But worldly phenomena cannot in principle logically demonstrate the truth of the proposition that God exists, however effective they might be at converting hearts and minds by their moral, historical or aesthetic demonstrations. I have however learned several arguments from logic and metaphysics that so far as I can tell definitely do succeed in logically demonstrating God’s existence. But they are not easy. Most atheists – and most theists, too – find them unconvincing, but this is because they fail to understand them. This failure is not of intelligence, or talent, or honesty, but of education. Moderns just don’t learn enough about metaphysics to be able to understand metaphysical arguments.

        That moderns are poorly educated is not blameworthy, for they all came by it honestly at the knees of their masters in school, who came by it the same way. So to say that an atheist fails to apprehend evidence for the existence of God is nowise pejorative. From the perspective of the theist, this is a straightforward description of the facts: thoughtful, honest atheists simply can’t see the evidence for the existence of God that is plainly apparent to theists, *and that’s why they are atheists.*

      • One tip I can give you is that I do think you need to work a bit harder on being extremely careful to remain consistent in your use of terms, from one comment to the next.

        I shall return the favor and give you a tip: go back and study some basic logic. Anyone who would state that “I do not believe “God exists” is false” is logically equivalent to “I believe “God exists” is true” needs a refresher. You demonstrate these logical flaws throughout your writing.

        You ask which of your statements I enumerated a few comments ago disagree with each other. #6 contradicts #8, and #9 contradicts #14.

        It is interesting that the only two you mention are the two I corrected in my response (#8 and #9). When you take my corrections, they are not contradictory. (I would even argue that #9 is a misquote by you, as I say the “I believe” that God should leave God sized evidence, not that “Atheists believe” it…not very careful reading by you there.

        So we are left with #8 as my one and only inconsistent statement…and I would argue that even as written it is true and not contradictory…but it certainly wasn’t clear. 1 out of 14 is still pretty good. ;)

        Additionally, with those two clarifications in my subsequent post, do you still see any contradictions in my writing???

        If theists were to go ahead and assume that there is no evidence for the existence of God, why we’d be atheists, just as Alan says.

        Here is an example of where you are really sloppy with your logical equivalences. I wrote that you needed to “remove a few last assumptions…like the idea that there actually is evidence for the existence of gods” and you translated it to “go ahead and assume there is no evidence for the existence of God”. Do you see how those two are not logically equivalent???

        Removing an assumption is not the same as assuming the opposite. You seem to have a lot of trouble with this concept.

        In addition, what I was responding to was your restatement of my position on atheism. You turned it into something about theists…which it never was. This is not evidence of a careful reading.

        Instead, what we do is try to show atheists the evidence we apprehend so plainly, and which – having concluded to atheism – they must have failed to apprehend.

        Do you not see the arrogance in this statement?

        Let’s say we are waiting for a bus and I ask you for the time. You tell me it is precisely 4:03 and 15 seconds. And then you tell me you know this because at precisely 4:03 and 15 seconds each day a special pigeon lands on the fire hydrant across the street, and you point me to the hydrant and the pigeon who just landed. Now you may have talked to the pigeon owner and watched him train the pigeon to do this and you may have seen this happen every day for three years in a row, but I don’t think you could blame be if I didn’t believe you. Yet, when it comes to God, you continue to accuse me of not simply disagreeing with you that the evidence is not compelling, but of not apprehending it. I understand that you believe it is 4:03 and 15 seconds because all of the evidence you have collected is compelling. I understand what you say you have done to collect this evidence. I simply don’t find it compelling.

        Do you not allow for the honest atheist who understands the evidence, yet does not find it compelling?

        I can appreciate that ontological and cosmological arguments are not everyone’s cup of tea, and that many people would like to see more concrete, in your face demonstrations

        It isn’t that they aren’t most people’s cup of tea, it is that A) they are very far removed from having any impact on day-to-day life and B) are terrible at providing evidence for the God of the Bible. Even if I found Kalam convincing (I don’t), I certainly don’t see how you get from Kalam to Christ.

        They would rather at most *indicate* the existence of God, as indeed theists have always found that nature everywhere nobly does – the heavens are telling, pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua, etc.

        Right…these things are pretty easily shaven off with Occam’s Razor.

        But worldly phenomena cannot in principle logically demonstrate the truth of the proposition that God exists, however effective they might be at converting hearts and minds by their moral, historical or aesthetic demonstrations.

        (I am assuming you are a believer in the God of the Bible, if not, please forgive my assumption.)

        Why did God stop doing miracles? Was Christ the last miracle worker? Why did God go from being someone who would send Mana from Heaven to someone who really seems to have turned a blind eye to the world? Why, if God has the power to do otherwise, does he make you use arguments that are entirely unpersuasive to some, even those who believe in him?

        Most atheists – and most theists, too – find them unconvincing, but this is because they fail to understand them. This failure is not of intelligence, or talent, or honesty, but of education. Moderns just don’t learn enough about metaphysics to be able to understand metaphysical arguments.

        Do you realize how unbelievably un-Christian that is??? How arrogant?

        Also, how highly unlikely? If what you say were true, there wouldn’t be any debate. If you have the golden reason, people who study this stuff would all agree with you. They don’t. I am fairly confident that if you gave me the name of any one of these ultimate-truth arguments that I could find both a theist AND an atheist with more degrees than you who does not agree with it.

        That moderns are poorly educated is not blameworthy, for they all came by it honestly at the knees of their masters in school, who came by it the same way.

        Wow…Dunning-Kruger effect much? You might want to check for the beam of messing up simple logically equivalencies in your eye before going after the poor education speck in other’s.

      • I shall return the favor and give you a tip: go back and study some basic logic. Anyone who would state that “I do not believe “God exists” is false” is logically equivalent to “I believe “God exists” is true” needs a refresher. You demonstrate these logical flaws throughout your writing.

        I already explained that when I first read your statement that you do not believe “God exists” is false, I thought – mistakenly – that we were talking, not about the state of your belief, but about whether God exists. It was within that context that I took you to be saying that, “It is false that ‘”God exists” is false.’”

        Basic logic is easy, I find. Translating English prose into logic, and logic back into English, that’s what’s tricky. Perhaps that trickiness might account for your impression that illogic pervades my writing. I’d be glad to know a few specific cases where my prose seems illogical to you. Dollars to doughnuts I just wasn’t using English carefully enough, or else you weren’t reading it carefully enough. Lord knows I do try hard to be careful with my English, but I ain’t perfect.

        When you take my corrections, they are not contradictory.

        When we tidy up, things do tend to get tidier. But better to be tidy from the get go. I’m not perfect in that respect either, I’ll be the first to admit. But you must agree that we spent a lot of time here together – not altogether unprofitably, to be sure! – talking past each other, because I was having trouble figuring out from your disparate statements what your position actually is.

        I would even argue that #9 is a misquote by you, as I say the “I believe” that God should leave God sized evidence, not that “Atheists believe” it … not very careful reading by you there.

        If you are an atheist, and if you believe that God should leave God sized evidence, then some atheists believe that God should leave God sized evidence.

        NB that this belief of yours that God should leave God sized evidence *is about God,* and thus falsifies your assertion that your agnostic atheism involves no beliefs. Or, well, wait; it may only falsify your assertion that you are indeed an agnostic atheist, despite what you yourself might honestly have thought. Either way, some falsification is at work here.

        Additionally, with those two clarifications in my subsequent post, do you still see any contradictions in my writing???

        Not contradictions, exactly, but disagreements, as I had said. Or perhaps only confusions. Taking only the list above into consideration, for example, 1, 2 and 3 disagree – or at least, they can be read that way. 1 could be taken to mean that while atheism is indeed a belief, it is not a world-forming belief. But 2 says, no, atheism is not a belief at all. And then 3 jumps in and says, wait, no, it is neither a belief, nor yet is it not a belief, but rather it is a lack of belief. This is just quibbling; I felt pretty sure I knew what you were getting at with 1, 2 and 3, which is why I didn’t bother to point them out until now. But it is a good example of the squirreliness of your prose – of prose in general, mine included – that made your true meaning difficult to discern.

        Here is an example of where you are really sloppy with your logical equivalences. I wrote that you needed to “remove a few last assumptions … like the idea that there actually is evidence for the existence of gods” and you translated it to “go ahead and assume there is no evidence for the existence of God”. Do you see how those two are not logically equivalent???

        Yes, certainly. I wasn’t drawing a logical equivalency – didn’t mean to, anyway. I was pointing out that theists don’t think that it is an assumption on our part that there is actually evidence for God. We see that the evidence is actually there. Thus there is no such assumption operating in us, that we could remove.

        From the theist’s perspective, the notion that it is only an assumption that there is actual evidence for God is itself only an assumption. If we went ahead and assumed it … but I think you probably see what I’m getting at here.

        In addition, what I was responding to was your restatement of my position on atheism. You turned it into something about theists … which it never was. This is not evidence of a careful reading.

        No, I saw what you were talking about. My restatement ran as follows:

        … atheism consists in utter agnosticism one way or the other whether any gods exist, that results from a failure on the part of atheists to apprehend compelling evidence of their existence, so that a consistent atheist has to answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I don’t know.”

        You wanted me to rewrite it so that it ran something like this:

        … atheism consists in utter agnosticism one way or the other whether any gods exist, that results from the fact that atheists apprehend no compelling evidence of their existence, so that a consistent atheist has to answer all questions whether any gods exist by saying, “I don’t know.”

        That someone does not apprehend evidence for the existence of God could be due to some problem in his apprehension of that evidence, or it could be due to the fact that there is no such evidence out there in the first place. From the theist point of view, it is the former; from the agnostic atheist point of view it is the latter. But if we stipulate to the agnostic atheist point of view by removing from the discourse all mention of the possibility that the evidence might indeed be there, but that for whatever reason the agnostic atheist fails to see it properly as such, then the agnostic atheist is going to be stuck in his ignorance of the evidence, even if it really is out there, as the theist insists. So doing, we would be stipulating to the truth of the agnostic atheist’s perspective, when that truth is precisely the question at issue between us, the very thing we disagree about. The agnostic atheist insists that he has not failed to apprehend any evidence for God’s existence, the theist insists that he has.

        Instead, what we do is try to show atheists the evidence we apprehend so plainly, and which – having concluded to atheism – they must have failed to apprehend.

        Do you not see the arrogance in this statement?

        Well, no. I see charity. I seem to see some things clearly that are apparently quite opaque to you. I’m interested in helping you see better. If you saw the evidence in the same light that I do, you would not remain an atheist. And that would make you happier. I want you to be happy. Presumably you are motivated toward me in much the same way: you see that I am deluded about the evidence, and would like to disabuse me of my delusion, so that I can understand the truth better and be happy.

        I am in no way blaming you for the fact that you don’t yet see the evidence in the same way I do. Nor do I think there is something wrong with you for not seeing it. Indeed, the hypothetical you provide is quite apt. What I’m saying is, as it were, “Look, Taggard, no fooling, I’ve talked to the pigeon owner, I’ve watched him train the pigeon to do that, and I’m telling you, if the pigeon is doing that, I am pretty doggone sure it is 4:03:15. Look, let’s go talk to the pigeon owner, I’ll show you, and you’ll see.”

        I can appreciate that ontological and cosmological arguments are not everyone’s cup of tea, and that many people would like to see more concrete, in your face demonstrations.

        It isn’t that they aren’t most people’s cup of tea, it is that A) they are very far removed from having any impact on day-to-day life and B) are terrible at providing evidence for the God of the Bible. Even if I found Kalam convincing (I don’t), I certainly don’t see how you get from Kalam to Christ.

        To get from the Cosmological Argument to Christ takes quite a bit of reasoning, and analysis of history, and then exegesis of Scripture and tradition. An argument for Christ is a different kettle of fish than what we’ve been talking about in this thread.

        The point I was trying to make was that if you want scientific proof that God exists, you’re asking the wrong sort of question. He’s not amenable to experimentation. To get a proof that God exists, you *must* resort to metaphysics and logic, both inherently rather bloodless (albeit wonderfully efficacious doors to contemplation).

        Why did God stop doing miracles? Was Christ the last miracle worker? Why did God go from being someone who would send Manna from Heaven to someone who really seems to have turned a blind eye to the world?

        There are still miracles all over the place. But we have to recognize them as such, and then also we have to admit to ourselves what it is that they mean. The stiff-necked Israelites had but little faith in YHWH, even though he led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, indeed even though they were eating his manna. A miracle can be standing there right in front of us, and we can fail to see it for what it is. Even when we do, we can fail to draw the correct inference to YHWH, instead inferring space aliens or Flying Spaghetti Monsters or Unknown Natural Explanations or Zeus or some defect in our neural circuitry that is causing us to hallucinate. No matter what sort of phenomenon we encounter in the world, it can be explained away somehow.

        Why, if God has the power to do otherwise, does he make you use arguments that are entirely unpersuasive to some, even those who believe in him?

        He could force us all to believe. But then, the belief wouldn’t really be ours, would it? He seems not to want a bunch of marionettes. He seems to want men.

        Is it that the arguments are inherently unpersuasive, or is it that there are men who are unpersuaded? In the Sinai, the arguments were pretty strong. Many of the Israelites were unpersuaded nevertheless. Indeed, so pervasive were the defects of their conversions of heart and mind, so blind were they and so perverse and willful, that none of those who departed Egypt made it into to the Promised Land.

        My own experience with an argument that at first I find unpersuasive – such as Anselm’s Ontological Argument – is that if I humbly and patiently engage with it, sometimes for years, why then eventually it opens up like a flower, and it is as if I see what it means for the very first time. Then lo, I find it persuasive. It’s a beautiful thing.

        Then, when I go back and rehearse my former disagreements with the argument I have now come to understand in a new way, I see that they were based on a mistaken interpretation on my part. I hear others offering similar disagreements, and see that they are in the same position I had been.

        I don’t think it is any more un-Christian or arrogant of me to observe that moderns are for the most part ill-educated in metaphysics than it would be for me to observe that they are likewise ill-educated in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. It’s just a fact. I’m not very well educated in any of those subjects, either. I’m barely competent to understand the Summa Theologica in English. It was written as a primer for teenage boys, a prolegomenon to their studies in theology at the University of Paris. Today it is a text for advanced scholars. Few such have bothered to read it, fewer to grapple adequately with its arguments, even fewer to have comprehended those arguments. The lacunae of those who have not yet understood Aquinas are painfully obvious to those who have understood him even a bit.

        Even those who are well educated in metaphysics disagree, of course. This is true of experts in every field. Indeed, the more educated, the more disagreeable. This does not mean that there are no golden arguments; for, that would mean that there is no truth, at all. It means only that the golden arguments are extremely difficult to penetrate – just what we should expect of arguments concerning ultimate reality. If there is Truth, then such penetration is possible (at least in principle), and experts who have all penetrated to the heart of an argument one way or another, so that they all understand it properly, will perfectly agree on its meaning, and thus on its cogency.

  8. To me, the Big Bang and abiogenesis are to the modern atheist what the “unprincipled exception” is to the modern liberal; they are “beliefs” that help one “physically” survive an otherwise self-annihilating worldview. Both these events are true singularities in a universe of purely redundant phenomena. But, whereas all other singularities are absolutely denied as ever existing (Perfect God, Perfect Man, miracle, resurrection, procreation, etc.), these two universe wide material configurations are somehow given credence when the modern scientific claim is that unique one time universe wide material configurations do not exist and this is exactly what one understands as being claimed when the theoretical physicist stands at the edge of the universe and looks back to see “nothing.” So we have the denial of the existence of singularities EXCEPT for the very two that caused the universe and created man.

    • I believe in neither the Big Bang nor abiogenesis. From what I have read on both (not all that much) it seems like we are getting closer to something to believe in on both, but I don’t think we are there yet. Both seem super freaky…and I like super freaky things, but I need a bit more consensus on things before I will invest too much time in understanding them…or at least finding someone who understands them whose opinion I can mimic.

      And again, I, and every atheist I have ever met, do not “absolutely” deny any of your singularities. We just ask for evidence.

  9. Pingback: The Sunday Shorts: April 27, 2014 | Struggling with Modernity

  10. Atheism isn’t merely an assumption; atheism is a rejection of any and all Singularities. So when the atheist falls back on the “Big Bang” singularity and the abiogenesis singularity their very

  11. Atheism isn’t merely an assumption; atheism is a rejection of any and all Singularities. So when the atheist falls back on the “Big Bang” singularity and the abiogenesis singularity their very psychological survival is based solely on the ignorantly derived tolerance of the outside world to a self-annihilating ethos.

    As the late Mr. Auster would say, these creative singularities are the atheists’ “unprincipled exceptions.”

      • Ok, I will bite. What is Perfect God and Perfect Man? How are these “unique one time universe wide material configurations”? Are you using the word configuration in the sense of Configuration Management?

        It is highly unlikely the abiogenesis is a “unique” thing…and there is certainly no evidence that the Big Bang was a unique thing. How do these qualify as Singularities???

    • That is a very singular definition of atheism you have there. I like it; it supports my thesis that the Kurzweil-ish singulatarians, who are all ostensibly militant atheists, are really theists at heart. They don’t go far enough, as compared to the more Nietzsche/postmodernist style atheist, to which your description might actually apply. The latter class is much more interesting; their opposition goes deeper.

      • The Kurzweil definition of Singularity is wily one… It basically reduces to an “unknowable process” such that there is an affirmation of science coupled with a subtle concession of its “limits.”

        Of course, all processes (redundant phenomena) are theoretically observable under science and therefore an “unknowable/unseen process” is a contradiction in terms. At the same time, science does not allow non-redundant phenomena (singularities) as such phenomena are immeasurable and thus not observable and then actually nonexistent.

        True Singularities only really encompass two phenomena:

        Perfect God
        Perfect Man

        The atheist denies the existence of both. His “singularity” is a totally false concoction.

      • You definition of the Kurzweil Singularity does not mesh with my understanding of it. I take the Kurzweil Singularity to be the point at which what comes after could not have been predicted/understood by what came before. Something like language…before language, we did not have the means to express what we could do with language. Or the harnessing of fire. Or life. Or the Internet. Kurzweil predicts the next Singularity will be when a computer can build a computer that is “smarter” than itself.

        Are Perfect God and Perfect Man your own invention? You keep using these phrases like people know what you are talking about. I certainly don’t. You also have a rather odd definition of Singularity. You might want to use another word, unless you are talking from another discipline that I know nothing about…which is certainly possible.

      • Taggard…

        The Perfect God and the Perfect Man, i.e., Jesus Christ, are the Singularities that the Christian worships. These “things” are the true Singularities as they are non-duplicable. “They” are the solution to the infinite regress to nothingness.

        To the strict materialist (read atheist/modern scientist/liberal), Singularities cannot really exist. See above. And the reason for this is that the entire paradigm is pure redundant phenomena from quantum foam to the multiverse. Infinite regress to nothingness is the claim. Unique one time universe/multiverse wide material configurations cannot really exist. Big Bang and abiogenesis are the “unprincipled exceptions” used by atheists in order to psychologically survive as the notion of Perfection is too noxious for them to handle.

        Kurzweil is trying to split the difference. He knows “science” can’t “see” the Singularity, but he is not about to tell them it is because Singularities don’t actually exist in the strictly material paradigm. This is why he defines his Singularity as a process that can’t be seen beforehand. But because a “process” is, by definition, redundant phenomena, it should be able to be seen in advance. In fact, that is exactly the claim of the modern scientist.

        Absolutely redundant phenomena equals totally predictable future. Ergo, no Singularities equals predictable future. And likewise, even the belief of a single Singularity equals totally unpredictable future.

      • To the strict materialist (read atheist/modern scientist/liberal), Singularities cannot really exist.

        I am down with this. In addition, I don’t think of the Big Bang or abiogenesis as Singularities either, and despite your belief otherwise, I am cool with that.

        Infinite regress to nothingness is the claim.

        This is probably beyond my philosophical sophistication, but I think the claim is infinite regression, but not necessarily to nothing…could be an infinite regression of Big Bangs followed by Big Crunches…or something. Life could be completely Singularity-less…and I am ok with that. I am much better with that than with living under The Perfect God (assuming you are talking about the God of the Bible) and The Perfect Man (who you said was Jesus Christ). I honestly don’t have much respect for either of them.

  12. Pingback: Late April Linkfest | Patriactionary

  13. Atheism is a rejection of the True Singularity and all Singularities thereafter…

    Atheism is a rejection of the Perfect God and the Perfect Man otherwise known as God of the Bible and Jesus Christ, respectively.

    He who will do all right. Perfect. Objective Supremacy. Omnipotent.

    He who the Christian worships as common sense tells him to worship that which is Perfect.

    True Singularities. Non-duplicable. Solution to the infinite regress to nothingness.

      • Taggard…

        All the deconstruction is done and over with…

        It’s a matter of acceptance or rejection.

        The atheist REJECTS true Singularities. Period.

        There is not even a point in arguing which Singularities that an atheist will entertain.

      • Meaning, we already know that the atheist will only entertain a “singularity” that “looks” like a redundant phenomenon, i.e., procedural and predictable and NOT a unique ONE TIME universe/multiverse wide material configuration.

      • But you cannot stop there because there are consequences to the rejection especially amongst those with above average IQ and white racial backgrounds…

        The first and most obvious consequence of rejecting the true Singularities is the manifest desire to “perfect man” through socially engineering. Clearly though, the atheist is too conceptually stunted to “perfect” man.

  14. Yeah dude…you rock that superior attitude and I will live with what I have going on. Good luck to you in all you do!

    • This is typical nerd retort…

      Remember… I come here from your neck of the woods…

      Atheists are tolerated by either sheer ignorance for the claims they make or by Christians willing to show them a light.

      Atheism has consequences…

      We start there or we don’t start at all.

      If atheism had no consequence you wouldn’t be here arguing atheism had no consequence. You would be stuck in your own infinite regress. In fact, you are and you will not accept the reprieve.

      • I was really just looking for the solution to the infinite regress. The Perfect Man seemed like the logical answer. And a fine reprieve.

      • You have no solution to infinite regress – because “From whence God”. Your ‘solution’ is in fact no such thing.

        Further, it introduces new fundamental problems. For example, a perfect being couldn’t produce imperfect products, otherwise the being itself wouldn’t be perfect.

        So the idea of the perfect God creating the Perfect Man only works so long as it doesn’t create imperfect man. The second it does that it means that your God is no longer perfect after all he produces imperfect things.

        Further your explanation for the origin of the universe has to actually be consistent with the actual universe. While we can at this point say the universe probably began, none of the other details actually mesh up with the Biblical account.

        At all.

        Plus we can actually look at the questions that we have answered and note a great big trend – God has never actually been the answer.

        We once believed gods caused the thunder and rain – now we know it is precipitation and friction. We once believed devils and demons caused diseases, now we have the germ theory of disease.

        We have believed just so stories for most of our history as a species, answers people made up to not feel ignorant, and those answers have more often than not proven to our detriment as a species.

        How about, instead of claiming that we know the origin of the universe and it is some God, how about we just say we don’t know? We have some theories, based off of observations that are fairly consistent, and we may one day know – but for now we don’t.

        Instead of making up some fairy-tale no better than Thog the caveman deciding thunder was the farts of the thunder-god, we simply admit that we don’t have all the answers.

      • Bruce Gorton…

        The First Law of Perfection is nonduplication. Which also happens to be the solution to infinite regress. The atheist, caught in his infinite regress, suddenly hits a “place” of nonduplication, i.e., a “singularity.” The first one he encounters is “abiogenesis” and the last one he comes upon is “big bang.” The problem, of course, is that atheist and the “science” don’t allow for the Singularity or any subsequent singularities. Atheists and the “science” ONLY ALLOW redundant phenomena. These “singularities” are “unprincipled exceptions” used by the atheist and scientist largely immune to scrutiny by and ignorant mass or overly obliging Christians.

        Deconstructing the evidence is all over…

        The side that rejects the existence of a Perfect God and the Perfect Man has chosen to confine himself to an “infinite regress” in which one has no true free will. Reality will accommodate this belief, but the question is at what consequence?

      • The problem, of course, is that atheist and the “science” don’t allow for the Singularity or any subsequent singularities.

        Yes, because it is not like we talk about “common descent” now is it *rolls eyes*.

        First of all, a singularity at no point has to be sentient or in fact “perfect” in order to be a singularity.

        It just has to be a point of origin.

        Life when it began wouldn’t have had to have been all that advanced, it would simply have had to be an imperfect replicator that produced copies faster than it died off.

        The imperfections would thus naturally start to give rise to greater and greater variety, while natural conditions would cull out the less successful lineages.

        We can surmise this much based on lab work which has replicated speciation – showing quite the reverse of what you think science cannot deal with.

        We may not be able currently to produce life from scratch – but then lab conditions aren’t exactly how the Earth started out, and we can observe life varying in ways that suit it to a changing environment.

        Similarly physics points to a point of singularity near the universe’s origin – how can science not allow for singularities when that is what they call the state of the universe preceding the Big Bang?

        Singularities are not a particular problem for science at all. They are however a problem for religion – because in each case evidence points to them not being God.

        They aren’t intelligent, they show no particular signs of being designed, they are just singular events. They do not conform to our tendency to anthropomorphise, they don’t fit the concept of a giant mind, and they certainly don’t fit the concept of “perfection” touted by religion.

        The first rule of perfection is not non-self-duplication, the first rule of perfection is that it cannot change. Life, by its nature is in a constant state of change and thus cannot have started out perfect. Similarly the universe changed near its beginning (we cannot go beyond the singularity at this point) thus indicating that the singularity itself wasn’t perfect.

        With religion you need to start assigning traits to singularities which don’t fit the evidence. You need God to be male and to care about his creation, you need to make your God a rule bearer and guide, you need your God to need to be worshipped, and you need it to have purpose.

        Gods do not explain the origin of the universe at all, instead they simply act as a mirror to the thoughts and wishes of the godly. Your god is simply an idealised form of you, agreeing with your politics whether they be left or right, and only inconvenient insofar as your own inability to live up to what you think is right.

        You need your God to make you right.

        Science doesn’t need all of that, all it needs is to recognise that singularities are in fact possible. It doesn’t have to assume much more about them than that.

  15. Pingback: Taggard on Atheism | The Orthosphere

  16. Bruce Gorton says,

    First of all, a singularity at no point has to be sentient or in fact “perfect” in order to be a singularity.

    In fact, the Perfect Being is The Singularity AND unique ONE TIME universe-wide material configurations are singularities (which can collapse to a black hole singularity). Ray Kurzweil’s “Singularity” is an “unforeseeable process” that attempts to blur the metaphysics.

    For example, when the theoretical physicist gets a universe-wide view of “things,” he turns “around” to see “nothing.” At this perspective he “sees” but a series of unique one time universe-wide material configurations… Nothing. He now constructs a multiverse in order to “observe” his own universe.

    The atheist and the scientist deny The Singularity and all subsequent singularities. The atheist and the scientist only believe in redundant phenomena… It’s ALL they can “see.” The Big Bang and abiogenesis are their “unprincipled exceptions.”

  17. Pingback: In-group/ Out-group Prejudice | Aristonothos

  18. Pingback: Ten Things Atheists Suggest Theists Should Bear in Mind | The Orthosphere

  19. ==Therefore there was a time (or perhaps we should speak more generally and say “a domain”) in which there was no cosmos: no matter, energy, space or even time.==

    That is an unverified and unverifiable statement. A false premise.

    One cannot rule out the possibility of a creator god nor the possibility of invisible pink unicorns, invisible fire breathing red dragons and so on. We can, however, determine the probability of such. When both the possibility and probability are equally good representatives of the value zero there is no reason to consider them in the question. For this reason we don’t consider a giant turtle having anything to do with creation. Where it can be ruled out your equally probable god can be ruled out.

    You speak of atheists as if they are all identical and all arrived at their world view the same way. Perhaps this is simply being misinformed or perhaps it’s willful distortion of the facts. Many atheist became atheists from a theist starting position. The notion that we started out with our conclusion is gobstoppingly ludicrous. You are glossing over the arguments against your position to dismiss them without exploring them.

    The probability of a man god 2000 years ago (or so) is a very good approximation of the value zero yet you claim to know it is true without credible evidence. If you had credible evidence you should be able to convert Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others on the spot. They _WANT_ to believe. Clearly your evidence is less than believable. It is not the atheist that you need to convince. You should start with the people that really really really want to believe in a god… if they don’t believe your jesus story why should an atheist?

    • You seem to have very little knowledge of evangelical Christians or Christian history or religious history. But you indicate an understanding of statistics, with talk of probability, possibility, zero correlation, etc.

      So why is the normal distribution normal?

      The probability of you in any timestream is also a very close approximation of the value zero, yet you expect your noises here to have value?

      • As the first born of an evangelical pentecostal preacher I get a chuckle when people assume that I have no knowledge about Christianity.

        A fabrication with a history is still a fabrication.

        Are you asking for a definition of the normal distribution or why it doesn’t apply to the probabilities of a god existing? All religions (general terms) explicity say that other religions are false, other gods are false, even down to the characteristics of the same god.

        Religious dogma pushes the game to all or nothing. Distribution has nothing useful to say about the probabilities of any particular god existing. When the information is collated for analysis there is little if any reason to trust the information about any particular god over that of another. This makes them all rather improbable.

        Where the Christian dismisses Vishnu and Allah, the Muslim dismisses Jesus and Vishnu with absolute certainty. The weight against any one religion is huge, much larger than the simple denial from atheists. While you and other Christians think this is a game of your god and no god, statistics say that we need count all believers and non-believers in the mix. When that happens the tale of the tape sits poorly for any given believer’s doctrine, and even worse for the probability of the existence of their particular god.

        Deists have a better shot than Jesus followers…

        ==The probability of you in any timestream is also a very close approximation of the value zero, yet you expect your noises here to have value?==

        You can hear my noise, right? It’s more real than your god. That makes it infinitely more valuable here than what your god might be.

    • One cannot rule out the possibility of a creator god nor the possibility of invisible pink unicorns, invisible fire breathing red dragons and so on. We can, however, determine the probability of such. When both the possibility and probability are equally good representatives of the value zero there is no reason to consider them in the question. For this reason we don’t consider a giant turtle having anything to do with creation. Where it can be ruled out your equally probable god can be ruled out.

      Maybe it is the case that one can “determine the probability” of God’s existence. But you haven’t done that. You’ve simply asserted that that probability is nearly zero. From what do you draw that conclusion?

      At any rate, theists hold that God’s existence is a matter of logical necessity, and we articulated just such an argument numerous times in this thread and subsequent ones. If God’s existence is necessary, then his existence is not a matter which submits to probabilistic modeling. In that case, one could no more effectively model the probability of God’s existence than one could model the probability that the first axiom of probability is true.

      Now, maybe we are wrong to argue that that God’s existence is necessary but it seems to me that if we are, we are owed an argument to that effect. Do you have one?

      By the way, Alan is a mathematician, I’m a(n aspiring) statistician, and among our co-bloggers is a physicist, an economist, and a finance guru. You’re not gonna’ surprise us with arguments from probability.

      • A god’s existence is not necessary. Not logically, not prgamatically. It has been shown that this universe is just what we’d expect given the laws of nature. If there is a god involved it was not in creating the bits and pieces of the universe. What came before the big bang singularity is up for grabs so far but that just makes god of the gaps thinking.

        I’m not trying to surprise you. I don’t even think that there is probability that my words will convert anyone’s beliefs. The point is this, when someone is supporting and preaching wrong thinking which in turn is dangerous, unsupportable, and caustic to society it is a duty to speak out against it … not doing so is silent support for it.

        A mathematician who is wrong is still wrong despite any degree they may have earned. The same goes for other professionals. When you’re wrong you are wrong. All the studying in the world will not make you right all the time. As an aspiring statistician you should understand that. So, the appeal to authority means nothing.

        If your evidence is so strong, why are there still Muslims, Jews, and Hindus? These people really want to believe in a god but for some reason don’t find your arguments very convincing. Is it any wonder that a non-believer would also not find them convincing?

      • A god’s existence is not necessary. Not logically, not prgamatically.

        That’s an assertion, not an argument. If there’s a defect in our argument for God’s necessity, as outlined in this comments section and the one of the subsequent, related post, then point it out, because the say-so of some random Internet heckler is not terribly convincing on its own.

        A mathematician who is wrong is still wrong despite any degree they may have earned. The same goes for other professionals. When you’re wrong you are wrong. All the studying in the world will not make you right all the time. As an aspiring statistician you should understand that. So, the appeal to authority means nothing.

        Yeah, I don’t disagree that a wrong mathematician is wrong. I’m saying that your say-so is not evidence of anyone’s wrongness. That’s not an “appeal to authority,” by the way, that’s me warning you, before you make any (more) silly claims about probability, that you’re dealing with real professionals here. I model probabilities for a living. I have published research. Etc.

      • I don’t know, Proph. I was about to write a message agreeing with you that probabilistic analyses can properly pertain only to contingent causal systems that operate with some degree of freedom, so that while it might be apposite to apply them to historical phenomena like the Resurrection, it is just inapt to apply them to questions such as whether God exists. But then I realized that metaphysical truths can be characterized as probabilistic, with the range of values limited to only 0 and 1. E.g., in all conceivable states of affairs:

        1. The probability of something coming from nothing is 0.
        2. The probability that there could be nothing at all is 0.
        3. The probability that a contingency could be absolutely uncaused is 0.
        4. The probability that a necessary being is absolutely uncaused is 1.

        And so forth.

      • Well, not exactly, though. Saying that p(Something) = 1 is not the same thing as saying that Something happens always, or necessarily. This is why we say that anything with p = 1 happens “almost surely.” If it is true that God exists necessarily then we cannot describe his existence in probabilistic terms, because (by definition) no alternatives to his existence would even be possible.

        We can still have some fun with probabilities, though. myatheistlife says that p(God) is very nearly zero. Setting aside the objection that God cannot fail to exist if our arguments are right — even if we grant that a contingent God were possible and not a completely, profoundly, moronically contradictory statement — let p(God) be some value that is virtually (but not quite zero). Then, 1-p(God) is the probability that God fails to exist at any particular moment, and (1-p(God))^n is the probability that God fails to exist after a succession of n moments.

        What is the limit of (1-p(God))^n as n approaches infinity, if p(God) ≠ 0? And recall, lots of atheists don’t have a problem with infinite regression, so it’s safe to assume that at any given time, n is already functionally infinite.

      • Ohh… forgive me. I have a cold and I just finished finals for the two grad-level statistics course I took this semester. So I am both insensible to humor and buzzing with math facts.

      • Hey, it was a joke on probability and metaphysics. Those subjects are both inherently hilarious. Put them together and it’s a laugh riot, yes? I can’t believe you missed it …

      • I think atheists could reasonably say either that p(God) is a probability covering all times, that if it’s a rate it is much less than one over the age of the universe, or that p(God at time t+tau) is not independent of p(God at time t). I’d even agree with them if they were to say that the conditional probability p(God at t+tau | no God at t)=0 exactly. But you’re right–this attempt to do metaphysics by probability is so wrongheaded, I can’t see anything of value coming from it.

      • “I was just joshing. Not very well, I suppose.”

        You do us a disservice. There’s only one way to josh.

  20. Proph, Kristor, et al.:

    A god either exists or does not exist. Can we agree on that? Monotheism does not do well with demi-gods and gods that are only partly divine. This post is started with an unsupported assertion as premise 1. Can it get worse? Yes. The next step in the argument is to presuppose that IF premise 1 is true then only a magic being could cause the universe we know (“cosmos”) to exist. This premise is worse than the first. It relies on a failed premise and yet asserts that a magic being exists on top of it.

    Moving on down hill the author berates the skeptic for believing in magic then continues to assert magic in the form of a magic being, assuring us that the author believes one kind of magic but not the physical world – arguing from disbelief. Let’s not even bother yet arguing about what magic creator god created the ‘cosmos’ – because that is completely unsupportable assertion even if we allow (for argument’s sake) that there is some creator god.

    Essentially, what has been offered in the post is the KCA. No matter how many degrees you have earned and no matter how smart you are if the KCA is your ‘proof’ then you have blown it. There are literally tens of thousands of web pages with perfectly sound refutations of the KCA. If that’s not good enough you can look at the refutations of the KCA by professional debaters and thinkers.

    Use statistics, nuclear energy, what ever you like. The KCA does not support the Christian god nor any other god known to humans. It does not support a magic being at all. When the KCA is offered in the first paragraphs of the post there is little reason to continue. Just the same, I did. I was not surprised to find that there is no valid support for either the KCA or any other argument for the existence of a god.

    The reliance on evidence for the miracle working Jesus is weak at best. There is evidence for the big bang, evolution, string theory etc. The ONLY evidence for a divine man god comes from a single book. Dan Brown novels are fiction but some how the Christian bible is truth unrepentant. This is claimed despite the evidence against it, the contradictions, the fact that it ‘looks’ like a fabrication in light of what was before it and contemporary to it. Christianity relies on special pleading without corroborating evidence of any kind.

    Even Jewish scholars (those educated guys that make a life out of studying religion) say that the bible is not factual, it’s just allegory and fable to teach us with.

    Everything I’m saying is out there, the real deal information, if you want to find it. Berating me for not providing you a 50 page paper with references won’t work. Ignorance is not an excuse when you’ve already claimed to have the intelligence and professional backgrounds needed for doing 10 minutes of research.

    • So I’m looking for your refutations and demonstrations here, and I’m not finding any. Lots of sweeping assertions and snark, but no arguments. No need to provide a footnoted tome: do you have an argument? One will do as a start. Pick any of your assertions and demonstrate it. Piece of cake.

      • Don’t be so eager or gleeful in your taunts… go look up the refutations for the KCA, then talk. I will not entertain your taunts till you do a little work on your own.

      • Hey, you’re the one who’s taunting. That’s all you are doing, taunting and failing to make any arguments. And you respond to a request for an argument with another taunt. It’s pathetic. Take a risk and see if one of your arguments can run the gauntlet here. If you aren’t willing to do the work of *actually proposing an argument,* don’t hit the “submit” button in the first place.

        I’m familiar with many refutations of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, although I would never suggest that I have heard them all. Those I have read, I find unconvincing.

      • Kristor, nice going, make it personal. You clearly do not understand what I have said. Grow up. You don’t find these refutations credible but you want your unsupportable arguments to be given attention. Not happening. You make the claim of a god, show the proof, make it real. When your evidence convinces Hindus then I’ll start listening. Until then you are simply offering yet another imaginary god and some dogma to go with it while claiming that your god can’t be proved wrong. You’re just another wanna be. Go on then, prove your belief.

      • I didn’t make it personal. You would do well to be more careful with your distinctions. I said that *it* is pathetic that you are spluttering and waving your hands and mocking and taunting without offering a single argument of your own. Especially since you are obviously so smart and educated about this stuff, and really good at philosophical discourse and all. A guy like you really *should* find it easy to refute something.

        So? Anything?

        It’s not that I find your refutations unconvincing, it’s that you haven’t actually offered any for me to consider.

        My arguments on the other hand are all over this site. Why don’t you choose one and demolish it?

    • Listen, man. Most of us have been around for a while. I’m nearly 30 and I’m the youngest poster here. Most of us have doctorates. Most of us are converts from irreligion (I was a liberal and a deist just 5 years ago). We’ve read much of what atheism has to offer, and many of us even spent time, as atheists, pushing those same arguments. If 10 minutes of research uncovers supposed refutations of the KCA, unmoved mover, etc., then 15 minutes uncovers refutations of the refutations, and we’ve been doing this a lot, lot longer than 15 minutes.

      Of course, none of us are omniscient, and it’s possible there’s some key point we all overlooked in our years of study and dialogue. That’s why I asked you to engage with specific arguments instead of just emoting and moaning. I assumed you were here in good faith, but you’re not. You’re just a heckler, and we don’t have the energy to deal with hecklers. Goodbye.

  21. @Kristor
    Did you not read my reply? You are simply making this personal and taunting. The KCA has been refuted many times. I need not repeat what is so evident. Your threats are nothing but signs that you are out of argument. If you care for your position, defend it or let it go. Trying to taunt me is childish. Tag, you’re it.

    • Still no arguments. Instead, a haughty refusal to take up a challenge.

      You haven’t been beaten in the lists, true. You’ve prevented any such thing by refusing to take up the gauntlet. Until you change your mind about that, you lose by default – and let down the side.

      We’d be glad to engage with you. But you need to actually engage. Let us know when you’d like to get started.

      • I’m not taunting you, i’m just pointing out the plain fact that you have not yet made any argument.

        But OK. Which position would you like me to defend, and against what argument?

      • Oh, wait, I get it. Duh! It’s not that you have no arguments to offer, but that you aren’t being serious in the first place. You’re just trolling.

        Well done. Funny! Touché.

      • I hope Alan doesn’t mind my stepping on his toes in his own thread, but I went ahead and banned him from further commenting since, as you say, he really has nothing to offer and it’s a chore entertaining every heckler that wanders in here off the street.

        FWIW I don’t think he’s “just” trolling. Check out his blog, it’s full of similar stuff. It reads like the writings of a 15 year old. Or at least like my writings when I was 15 years old.

      • FWIW, it’s probably useful that we had some interaction with myatheistlife (acronym: MAL. Appropriate, no?). At least we allowed him to show himself to be a malevolent poseur. Maybe in real life he’s not a malevolent poseur, but he sure was here.

        The problem with taking some people to the woodshed is that, even as you administer a thrashing, they think they’re thrashing you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s