A Familiar Conversation: Part 1

Those familiar with past conversations on this blog will be familiar with the voice of our objector. In this article I shall refer to our objector as Didymus, in memory of the one who doubted the Apostles’ word, but came to believe when Christ appeared to him saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believed.”

The following will seem like we’re treading familiar water. That’s because we will be. This is, as the title declares, a familiar conversation.[1] First, take note of few of Didymus’ statements;

Stuart: Failing to make an argument is failing to reason.

Didymus: I’m not failing to make an argument, I’m refusing to make a philosophical one. . . One argument of mine is that I just don’t see god. This is an evidentiary argument.

In response, making an argument, but not making a philosophical argument is impossible. All arguments require and use in some way philosophy, even if it’s just the basic laws of logic (rules of right-thinking) that are employed. Logic is a sub-discipline of philosophy, and because logic must be used in an argument, refusing to make a philosophical argument is refusing to make an argument.

An evidentiary argument is one that provides evidence. Evidence by itself tells us nothing until reason is applied. Good reason requires good philosophy, and bad reasoning uses bad philosophy. So evidence is always used in philosophical arguments, and this is the case for the cosmological, teleological, moral and historical arguments for God’s existence. Because I look favourably on the use of such arguments, I am an evidentialist apologist. The ontological argument is supposed to only use premises that can be derived purely from inside the mind instead of tangible evidence from the world of sight and sound. Still, one could construe this argument to be evidentiary in the sense that it, as a purely philosophical argument can be used as evidence in the case for God’s existence (that is, if one thinks it is a good argument).

Also take note of Didymus’ response to this question.

Stuart: What arguments for Atheism[2] do you find convincing?

Didymus: I see no evidence for god.

“I see no evidence for god” is supposed to be taken as a serious argument for Atheism.[2] Witness the implied syllogism.

Step (1) I see no evidence for god.
Step (2) Therefore, God does not exist.

Clearly this is not an argument. Arguments need at least two premises to reach a conclusion. There is no logical law of inference that would conclude (2) – that God does not exist – from (1) – I see no evidence for God. In order to conclude atheism one would have to add an extra premise between (1) and (2), bumping the conclusion to step (3). Let us presume that the lack of Didymus finding evidence is reason enough to conclude that there is no evidence for God.

Step 1) There is no evidence for god.
Step 2) The absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Step 3) Therefore, God does not exist.

Now this is a logically valid argument. That is the argument breaks no formal or informal rules of inference. The argument though is far from sound. For an argument to be sound it needs to be logically valid and have true premises.

The evidence for God is vast. There are two broad categories each with a diverse variety: philosophical evidence and experiential evidence. The philosophical evidence is listed above, and frequently discussed here at the Thinking Matters website. The experiential evidence can be everything from a full-blown Christophany[3] to the quiet witness of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Other experiential evidence might include miracles of healing, signs and wonders, deliverance from demonic activity, the functioning of spiritual gifts such as prophecy or words of knowledge and wisdom.

So as there is evidence for God, premise (1) is false. Nothing more is needed to invalidate the argument. However, you will recall that we were operating under Didymus’ belief that there is no evidence for God. So more important for my purpose here is to point out that premise (2) is also false. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

When there is an absence of evidence for belief P it may be reasonable to remain sceptical or doubtful about belief P, but to conclude from only this that there is an actual absence of P is to overstep the boundary of what one can rationally claim. There are many cases where the failure to provide evidence does not mean said occurrence did not happen, or said entity does not exist. Four examples shall suffice.

(A)

A body is found. Investigators are able to deduce a time and cause of death, and come to suspect that it took place in a well-known haunt where other illegal activity often occurs. As it happens, the murder did occur there and their suspicions are correct, though they do not know it. The problem is the place they suspect is clean of all the expected bloodstains and bullet casings. They find no evidence that the crime was committed there. This is because the murder scene was scrubbed clean and put in perfect order by an expert team, who then fled the country leaving no witnesses. Scenarios like this make “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” an axiom in forensic science.

(B)

Prior to the advent of heliocentricism,[4] championed by Copernicus and Galileo, it was thought by more than a few that the earth was the centre of the Solar System and that the sun revolved around the earth. Suppose heliocentricism was proposed before any of the evidence for it was found. One would understandably be sceptical, as this new idea would be totally different from what had always been taught and previously believed by everyone else. The people who ask for evidence get no reply – none yet has been discovered. They conclude then that geocentricism[5] is better because there is no evidence for heliocentricism. In this case the inability to prove something was not proof that that something was false.

(C)

Take the moral claim “cannibalism (to eat another human’s flesh) while the person is still alive is wrong.” When asked to prove this moral assertion, the person making the claim is not able to do it. One argues that is wrong to knowingly inflict harm on someone else, and thus this case of cannibalism is wrong, but this response itself relies on other unproven and un-evidenced moral assertions. The point here is you can know something is wrong, without knowing how something is wrong. Morality is very much an instinctual process, and one grasps that something is wrong without necessarily reasoning out the “why?” beforehand. So here you have a moral claim that is true but is unable to be shown to be true, yet it remains reasonable to believe true. Again, the inability to prove something was not proof that that something was false.

(D)

Before the Seventeenth Century it was supposedly thought that there was no such thing as a black swan. However, during the expansion of Europe people traveled widely and, lo and behold, some black swans were discovered. Prior to this there was an absence of evidence for black swans, but this did not mean that there were no such things as black swans.

Next time in Part 2 we shall continue with this familiar conversation, and see how Didymus generally responds to this.


[1] My reason for posting here is so when this argument again pops up, as it inevitably will, I can simply refer said proponent to this post.

[2] Atheism is the idea that God does not exist

[3] An appearance of Christ in the flesh, such as to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.

[4] The belief that the earth revolves around the sun.

[5] The belief that the earth is in the centre of the universe, and all revolves around it.

30 replies
  1. Godlessons
    Godlessons says:

    I find it rather humorous that you pick on arguments for atheism, yet leave arguments for God out of the picture. There is no way to prove either idea to be true logically, and it is laughable when anyone does. The best that can be done is to show that the opposing side’s arguments are not proof. All that can be said is that you believe because you feel one answer or another is better, but feelings are not knowledge, no matter how strong they are.

    We can examine one argument for the existence of God, and it pertains to almost every argument. See if you can spot the problem before I point it out.

    William Lane Craig likes to argue that if objective moral values exist, god must exist. His argument goes something like this:

    1. If there are objective moral values, God exists.
    2. There are objective moral values.
    3. Therefore God exists.

    Now, forgetting for a moment that premise 2 is question begging, because it is my assertion that it can’t be proved or disproved, we still have a problem with premise 1. It can’t be shown that God must exist for there to be objective moral values.

    Now, let’s assume that the second premise is correct, how do we show that premise 1 is correct while still making no logical fallacies?

    Well, we are trying to get to the origin of morality, so it is always proper to ask the question of where someone gets the idea of morality. This means we have to ask the same question of God that we ask of ourselves. Does God command morality because it is good, or is morality good because God commands it?

    Now, if God commands morality because it is good, he can’t very well be the origin of morality. If morality is good because God commands it, it is arbitrary, and can change on the whim of God. Also, if God stopped existing, suddenly it would be okay to rape and murder. This seems illogical if you assume objective morality.

    Now, there is only one way to go here if you want to say that God is the source. Morality must be good because God commands it.

    This would be a problem for the idea of altruism though. If morality is good because God commands it, then morality is arbitrary, and the only reason to be moral is self interest. That means you either fear punishment, crave reward, or both.

    William Lane Craig couldn’t get out of this either. When trying to explain how we have an obligation to be moral that isn’t out of self interest, Craig said, “…we do have moral reasons to obey God, because God is the ultimate good. His commands to us are therefore right, and therefore we have a moral obligation to obey God.”

    Here’s where we have a huge problem in logic, and it is where pretty much all arguments for the existence of God fail. This statement is entirely circular. In essence, what Craig said is that We have a moral obligation to be moral(obey God), because God is moral, and his commands are moral, therefore we have a moral obligation to be moral. Can you see the circularity in that now?

    This goes with the cosmological argument too. Saying that everything that begins to exist must have a cause, and then saying that God doesn’t have to have a cause is fine to a degree, although it is still begging the question. There is no way to prove that absolutely everything that begins to exist must have a cause. This is an assumption that can’t be known unless one knows everything. Now, let’s assume the premise is true, how do you get to an all knowing, all powerful being from that without a ton of question begging and circular reasoning.

    So, it is not just arguments against the existence of God that aren’t logical, arguments for the existence of God are as well.

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Whilst it is true that you cannot prove God’s existence to a degree of 100% certainty, as in mathematical proofs and the laws of logic, it is possible to prove God’s existence to a degree of certainty such as in a court of law – beyond reasonable doubt. This is so because a premise need not be proven to be true; it need only to be more probable than its contradictory. In this sense the arguments for God’s existence are good arguments, for if you can accept each premise the conclusion is necessary and inescapable (absent any informal fallacy of course, and there are none. The Euthyphro problem is a hopeless objection to Divine Command Theory and I’ll soon get a post on it up to explain).

  3. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    “I find it rather humorous that you pick on arguments for atheism, yet leave arguments for God out of the picture.”

    Agreed. It is utterly hysterical that in a post on arguments for atheism, the author sticks to the subject of arguments for atheism. Side splitting stuff.

  4. Godlessons
    Godlessons says:

    Glenn

    Agreed. It is utterly hysterical that in a post on arguments for atheism, the author sticks to the subject of arguments for atheism. Side splitting stuff.

    It is not that it is arguments for atheism that is the problem, it is that he is pointing out problems with logic with atheists arguments, while asserting that these problems don’t hold with arguments for God. The same exact fallacies hold, no matter which side you talk about.

    Stuart
    Kudos on noticing that it is the Euthyphro dilemma by the way. Most people don’t know what that is unless I tell them. Lets me know that you are an intelligent person that has looked at the arguments at the very least. If you post on it, I would love to know about it. Shoot me off an email if you would like, and let me know it’s up.

    Now to what you said.

    Whilst it is true that you cannot prove God’s existence to a degree of 100% certainty, as in mathematical proofs and the laws of logic, it is possible to prove God’s existence to a degree of certainty such as in a court of law

    While this wasn’t claimed in your original article, I’ll bite. I would have to disagree. If that were the case, I’m sure that the Dover trial, where the judge was a believer, would have forced us to be teaching intelligent design in schools.

    Now, I assume you are speaking of Bayesian inference, and it is true that it is something regularly used in courts to come to a conclusion. This is a bit of a flawed method to get to the truth sometimes. It can be prone to inductive bias, where one’s personal mores hold sway over how easily they accept the hypothesis. If you had a jury with half atheists and half theists, you would most likely come out with a hung jury. All that is necessary for someone that has a bias to come to the wrong conclusion is to have a single explanation that sounds more plausible to them and supports their bias, and they will hang on it, even if it gets them to the wrong conclusion, and there is the problem with this argument in Bayesian inference. Everyone has a bias when it comes to this issue.

    Let’s say that you come to court using the cosmological argument for example. You say that we can’t have an infinite regress of causes, and then say that this first cause must be all powerful, all knowing, and all the rest. On the other hand, assuming that I don’t argue with the necessity of causality, I argue that we see things all over the place reorganizing into more and more complex things over time. Because of this, whatever the first cause is, it must be simple and unintelligent. This is the extremely shortened version, but I think a very good case could be made for it. In your case, something that can’t be truly imagined is proposed, where in my case something that is very easy to imagine is proposed. Where does Bayesian inference fall then? I think that if people were able to remove their biases, they would be forced to accept that Ockam’s razor holds true here as well.

    Where you may have a name for the unknown that you propose, and the things I propose may be unnamed unknowns, it is still true that unknowns that are natural are still much more and likely than unknowns that are supernatural, even if you give them a name.

    Now, I would have to agree that in a court of law, it is more likely that a skilled debater, like William Lane Craig, could sway opinion, it is not true that such arguments are insurmountable to someone that is good at debate.

    This means that even though good sounding arguments can be made, it is argument after all, and is only as compelling as the person presenting it. It is also audience dependent.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Godlessons,

    Now, I assume you are speaking of Bayesian inference, and it is true that it is something regularly used in courts to come to a conclusion.

    No, I am actually talking about the epistemic requirements of a premise in a syllogism. If it were the case that you had to prove your premises to a 100% certainty, the scope of what you could know would be severely limited. Limited in fact to only a few necessary truths, such as mathematical proofs. Such a restriction I find is a completely unrealistic description of the way things are done in everyday life and thinking.

    But say I am talking about Bayesian probability theory – what in your background information of the world effects what premise in the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

    Let’s say that you come to court using the cosmological argument for example. You say that we can’t have an infinite regress of causes, and then say that this first cause must be all powerful, all knowing, and all the rest.

    No cosmological argument I know of concludes that the first cause is an omniscient being.

    “You say that we can’t have an infinite regress of causes” Because there was a beginning. Not because there is a necessity of causality.
    “On the other hand, assuming that I don’t argue with the necessity of causality, I argue that we see things all over the place reorganizing into more and more complex things over time.” But that’s precisely what we don’t see because the universe has a beginning (defended in premise 2).

    Where you may have a name for the unknown that you propose, and the things I propose may be unnamed unknowns, it is still true that unknowns that are natural are still much more and likely than unknowns that are supernatural, even if you give them a name.

    No cosmological argument I know of gives a name to the first cause.

  6. Godlessons
    Godlessons says:

    No, I am actually talking about the epistemic requirements of a premise in a syllogism. If it were the case that you had to prove your premises to a 100% certainty, the scope of what you could know would be severely limited. Limited in fact to only a few necessary truths, such as mathematical proofs. Such a restriction I find is a completely unrealistic description of the way things are done in everyday life and thinking.

    I agree. If we were to be honest about the things we know to a 100% certainty, we would be limited to the things that we think. I can’t say I know that my computer exists to a 100% certainty, but I can say that I know that I think my computer exists to a 100% certainty.

    The problem is, people call these arguments proofs. On top of that, in my opinion, if evidence can be found to be more or less persuasive based on the style of the person presenting the argument, I have little faith that it can get us to truth. It may very well be true, but if something as arbitrary as debate style can be the biggest determining factor of whether or not someone believes it, it seems to me that it is more bravado than evidence.

    That having been said, I can say that William Lane Craig is probably one of the most skilled debaters I have ever seen. He has an ability to generally shift the burden of proof onto his opponent, even if it is not warranted, as well as the ability to speak with confidence and have access to information that most people can’t keep track of in their minds. Foremost, he has an ability to sound like he is not contradicting himself, even when he is, like when he says that God existed timelessly sans creation and temporally with creation. This sans creation thing is obviously temporal in relation to with creation, but he will not admit that, instead dancing around the problem with double talk. If there were no time before creation, saying that God existed before time existed is nonsense, it doesn’t matter if you say he existed timelessly or not, it still suggests existence prior to time. Craig calls this a logical “before”, but fails to show what medium other than time that this before can be measured. Our only option is to say, if time had its beginning at creation, then God didn’t exist prior to creation. If it weren’t before creation, that would mean that God and the universe came into existence at the same time, and would preclude him from creating anything.

    Needless to say, Craig’s debate tactics are useful for making people feel like he knows what he is talking about more than his opponents, but that doesn’t mean that he reaches the truth. Even I have to admire his debating skill, but I have the luxury of being able to sit as a spectator and not in opposition to him on a stage. It is much easier for me to debunk his points one at a time when I’m not on the spot in a debate. I can rewind the video and take his words down verbatim and show how they are circular, where without shorthand skills, a debater may not be able to it.

    No cosmological argument I know of concludes that the first cause is an omniscient being.

    I have heard this being argued. The idea seems to stem from a different discussion of contingency. The argument says that anything that could be one thing, but is another, is somehow contingent on something that preceded it. When you get to the end of this chain, it means that whatever is there is not just one thing, but everything. This form of argument has some pretty obvious flaws, but it is a form of the cosmological argument that I have heard a few times, and it does try to prove an all powerful entity.

    “You say that we can’t have an infinite regress of causes” Because there was a beginning. Not because there is a necessity of causality.

    First of all, we can’t establish there was a beginning right now. We can establish that the universe seems to have been all at one specific point at one time, in a singularity, but we can’t determine if it didn’t exist in some form prior to the point which we can calculate. We can’t even really get to T=0, because that would make no mathematical sense to divide by zero.

    No cosmological argument I know of gives a name to the first cause.

    You have obviously heard of the Kalam cosmological argument and William Lane Craig. Watch any one of his debates and he will finish his cosmological argument with something like, “We call this God.” I don’t know how you can say that no cosmological argument you know of gives a name for the first cause, unless you don’t think God is a name.

    Wow I ramble on in comments like it’s my own blog. Sorry for that.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Godlessons,

    The problem is, people call these arguments proofs.

    Thats not a problem. Just a semantic incongruity on your part.

    Foremost, he has an ability to sound like he is not contradicting himself, even when he is, like when he says that God existed timelessly sans creation and temporally with creation.

    Your example isn’t an illustration of circularity. Your barstadization of what William Lane Craig says is. Note: “If there were no time before creation, saying that God existed before time existed is nonsense,” is not what William Lane Craig would say.

    I agree that Craig is a skilled debater. He is also a skilled writer, and has been defending the KCA for almost 30 years. There isn’t an objection you can think of that he hasn’t addressed in some way, in some form, somewhere.

    Stuart: No cosmological argument I know of concludes that the first cause is an omniscient being.

    Godlssons: I have heard this being argued. . . .This form of argument has some pretty obvious flaws, but it is a form of the cosmological argument that I have heard a few times, and it does try to prove an all powerful entity.

    That is very confused on what an omniscient being is.

    Stuart: No cosmological argument I know of gives a name to the first cause.

    Godlessons: You have obviously heard of the Kalam cosmological argument and William Lane Craig. Watch any one of his debates and he will finish his cosmological argument with something like, “We call this God.” I don’t know how you can say that no cosmological argument you know of gives a name for the first cause, unless you don’t think God is a name.

    What else would you call a being which is time-less, space-mess, immaterial, tremendously powerful, changeless, necessary, and personal? Note the words of Aquinas; “Everyone calls this God.” God is used as a description, not just a proper name.

  8. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    I have not read the comments, and I have not read all of the post. As always, this post – what I have read of it – is just philosophical wibblings which amount to “you can’t prove that there is no teapot” except for:

    The evidence for God is vast………

    Which is plainly false to anyone who has a modern and consistent definition of the word ‘evidence’.

    Philosophical mind-games only need to be employed if one wishes to believe in something for which there is no evidence. (using the word ‘evidence’ in the modern and consistent way).

  9. Godlessons
    Godlessons says:

    Your example isn’t an illustration of circularity. Your barstadization of what William Lane Craig says is. Note: “If there were no time before creation, saying that God existed before time existed is nonsense,” is not what William Lane Craig would say.

    While my original statement was not his exact words, here is an exact quote form Craig himself.

    …if God existed before time, He existed at some time prior to time, which is obviously a contradiction. Secondly, to say God always existed timelessly is self-contradictory, since “always” is a temporal adverb meaning “at all times.” But to say God prior to creation existed both timelessly and at all times is clearly contradictory.

    Now, if what I said was in any way not in the spirit of what Craig claims, I would like to know how.

    You can see the entire context of that quotation here – A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity

    So, now that I have shown that it is actually Craig’s position, you can address it and please refrain from saying that I am bastardizing anything unless you know for sure that you are right. I must warn you, I keep a list of Craig quotes and references just for the purpose of refuting claims that I am misrepresenting Craig, because it happens so often.

    What else would you call a being which is time-less, space-mess, immaterial, tremendously powerful, changeless, necessary, and personal? Note the words of Aquinas; “Everyone calls this God.” God is used as a description, not just a proper name.

    Where do you get all of these attributes from the cosmological argument? Sounds like something that needs some evidence. As for what I would call it, why does it matter? Nothing about those attributes makes it necessary to call it anything. God is a label, a name. You said that it doesn’t claim it has a name, now you are backpedaling. I think it was obvious what I meant when I said you have a name for your unknown. I don’t see why I had to invoke the name of William Lane Craig to get you to see that I am right.

    I don’t know why you try to deflect when I say things. I shouldn’t have to chase you down on these dumb little points, especially when the information is so easy for you to research yourself. There is no reason you should be making me back up all these points, all of which I have successfully done so far, instead of dealing with them. If you have a strong position, state it. Greasing yourself up and running around making me defend everything I say, while having no argument of your own is no fun for anyone but you.

  10. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Godlessons,

    If you have an objection to the content of the post above (not an objection to the Kalam Cosmological argument) you should state it plainly and defend it appropriately.

    On your objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument and other related subject matter;

    Your quotes from William Lane Craig confirm what I said about what he would affirm. Craig’s position is not as you put it, that there was no time before creation. His position is that God existed timelessly sans creation and temporally with creation. This is not contradictory or circular. You say “his sans creation thing is obviously temporal in relation to with creation” thus it is circular. It is not obviously so. Neither is it actually so. The whole point of the paper you referred to is to explain how a coherent doctrine of divine eternity can be formulated and defended.

    Where you may have a name for the unknown that you propose, and the things I propose may be unnamed unknowns, it is still true that unknowns that are natural are still much more and likely than unknowns that are supernatural, even if you give them a name.

    I said “No cosmological argument I know of gives a name to the first cause.” By this I meant that from the premises of all the cosmological argument I know of, none of them deduces the name of this being. The premises arrive at a being with a whole list of attributes, those attributes together we know have a unique correspondence to the definition of “God” and so God is the appropriate word/label to use. If you want to call this being “the unknown” that is fine, only it seems to me a woeful choice because if the argument is successful you do know something about this being, don’t you? If you want to leave this being completely unnamed, that is fine also, but a clumsy way to go about the discussing the object that the argument is trying to prove.

    The list of attributes comes from Craig’s writing and presentations of the Kalam Cosmological argument, and also from the premises, as the premises conclude there was a cause to the universe. The nature of the cause of the universe would have to be . . . its easy to figure out.

  11. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    I don’t need to. Most of what you have written is just poinless. Things like “Clearly this is not an argument. Arguments need at least two premises to reach a conclusion. There is no logical law of inference….
    Nobody cares. I can reason perfectly well by doing these things implicitly. And I am making no logical mistakes. The entirely of your post is this kind of nonsense. What IS relevant is:

    The evidence for God is vast………

    Which is plainly false to anyone who has a modern and consistent definition of the word ‘evidence’.

    I have asked you for evidence for god but you cannot come up with anything. All you come up with is ‘I do not recall where the evidence is’ and ‘some people somewhere record these things’. It is no wonder you believe strange things if this is your standard of evidence.
    For the rest all you have are philosophical arguments (for which there are probably just as many against a god), ‘historical’ arguments (no-one who isn’t biased/brainwashed is going to treat religious texts like a historical text), teleological arguments (which have a rich history of being incessantly proved wrong), and moral arguments (which are not unlike the teleological arguments).

    I still wait keenly for you to produce some evidence.

  12. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I addressed Other Simon’s aversion to philosophical arguments in PART 2, so I won’t do so again here.

    His “modern and consistent definition of the word evidence” is constrained somehow. I at least provided an explanation of how I understand and use the word, which is far more than what he has done here in his comment with an off-hand appeal to common-sense. Its not plain to me what he thinks is the common-sense definition of the word. Perhaps he might grace us with the way he understands it? I would ask him though to not comment further until after he has read and believes he understands Part 1 and Part 2.

    ‘I do not recall where the evidence is’ and ’some people somewhere record these things’

    I said the former, but the latter is a barstadization of what I actually said. And both were with respect to very particular spectacular miracles. Not general evidence as Other Simon avers.

    For the rest all you have are philosophical arguments (for which there are probably just as many against a god), ‘historical’ arguments (no-one who isn’t biased/brainwashed is going to treat religious texts like a historical text), teleological arguments (which have a rich history of being incessantly proved wrong), and moral arguments (which are not unlike the teleological arguments).

    Notice the “probably” in his parenthesis after philosophical arguments. He doesn’t actually know the atheistic arguments. Notice in the parenthesis after historical arguments. MY GOD! Does he believe that religious texts do not also qualify as historical? or does he think that all historical arguments are based upon texts that rely on religious authority? or both? Similar comments could be made for the rest, but why waste time on someone who won’t even read posts he chooses not to read!?

  13. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    -I know of at least several arguments against god. But since I don’t give much credence to philosophical arguments I don’t care to dig these out. Many are readily accessible on the internet from respectable places. (But don’t beleive them, because Stuart has foreknowledge that they are all ‘logically’ fallacious!)

    -Okay. No non-brainwashed historian would treat a religious text like a non-religious text.

    ‘I do not recall where the evidence is’ and ’some people somewhere record these things’

    These are very accurate representation of what Stuart has said.

  14. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    When there is an absence of evidence for belief P it may be reasonable to remain sceptical or doubtful about belief P, but to conclude from only this that there is an actual absence of P is to overstep the boundary of what one can rationally claim.

    It is completely rational to live one’s life as though P does not exist. When a person has never seen any first hand evidence for the existence of god, and when second hand evidence is on a par with fortune telling and astrology, and when historical evidence is on a par with a myriad of other religions, one could not be more certain that P does not exist.

  15. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    -Okay. No non-brainwashed historian would treat a religious text like a non-religious text.

    The level of ignorance one would have to maintain to affirm this is astounding.

    It is completely rational to live one’s life as though P does not exist.

    I admit as much in Part 2. In the absence of evidence for P, or even in the absence of knowledge of the evidence for P, it is rationally acceptable to be sceptical, and hence live ones life as though P does not exist. (prudential reasons put aside for now)

    When a person has never seen any first hand evidence for the existence of god, and when second hand evidence is on a par with fortune telling and astrology, and when historical evidence is on a par with a myriad of other religions, one could not be more certain that P does not exist.

    This is an interesting claim to dissect. It starts out talking about God’s existence, but ends in a general principle about belief ¬P. The claim is; the highest epistemic value (100% certainty) is conferred for belief ¬P when several factors are present. These factors are; (A) no knowledge of “1st hand” evidence, (B) when “2nd hand” evidence is quackery, and (C) when historical evidence is on the same level as other religions historical claims.

    The logical form of this claim is;
    1) (A & B & C) → ¬P
    2) A
    3) B
    4) C
    5) ¬P

    Its interesting to see that Other Simon uses philosophy to argue, yet is a detractor of the use of philosophy to determine if beliefs are true of false. The hope is obviously to show that Theism is false. But if this principle – to show with 100% certainty that ¬P – is accurate, it equally shows that Atheism is false. Is this principle accurate though? With respect to P;

    (A) no knowledge of “first hand” evidence for P.

    If this single criterion were alone one could be forgiven for their scepticism for belief P, but not their certainty of ¬P. With respect to Theism, I have first hand experiential evidence of God, so the criterion does not apply to me. It apparently does apply to others though who do not have the benefit of this first hand experiential evidence, or else have experienced a defeater for this experiential evidence.
    But as the certainty is not attained by (A), it must be attained by one of the other two criteria.

    (B) when second hand evidence is on a par with fortune telling and astrology

    If “2nd hand evidence” is supposed to be philosophical evidence, then one would have to justify with reasons either (1) why particular philosophical arguments premises are false or mistaken in their logical inferences, or (2) that the method of philosophical argumentation in general is mistaken in its use to conclude P.

    If “2nd hand evidence” refers to someone else’s experiential evidence, then one would have to give suitable defeaters similar to the defeaters used for astrology and fortune-telling to conclude that said evidence is of the same quality as that used by astrologers and the like. Moreover, one would have to give defeaters that are logically necessary in order to achieve the 100% certainty in step 5 of ¬P.

    In fact, to attain the certainty of ¬P in step 5, all these requirements would have to be logically necessary truths if the criteria of (A) and (C) fail to provide the certainty of step 5. An extraordinarily tough order indeed.

    (C) when historical evidence is on a par with a myriad of other religions

    One wonders just what historical evidence Other Simon has in mind as confirmatory or dis-confirmatory with respect to the belief that God exists. Perhaps it is the historical data for the resurrection of Christ he has in mind, as these are central to the historical argument for Theism. If so the historical evidence is not equal in quality to the myriad of other religions. It is far superior! Just consider the textual evidence alone and by itself for Christ as the progenitor of Christianity compared to the textual evidence alone and by itself for Julius Ceasar as the progenitor of the Roman cult of Divinity. There is no comparison! Even for non-religious persons such as Plato or Alexander the Great there is a pale comparison.

    But no matter – the certainty of ¬P is not attained by this criterion. Historical research does not give logical necessity – it only gives at best high probability. Besides this, multiple attestation is generally considered, as one of the primary ‘tools and rules’ in historical research, good evidence to believe in facts of a historical nature. This is also true for enemy attestation, such that if other religious historical claims agree with the historical claims of Christianity, then that is good reason to boost the probability of historicity, not diminish it.

    So though 100% certainty of ¬P is not attained by any one these criteria, perhaps one might argue that it is the conjunction of all of them that enables it. Only, its difficult to see how three leaky buckets can suddenly not leak when they cooperate. Logical necessity is not an emergent property that obtains in the presence of criteria that only confer at best high probability, and at worst are not fulfilled.

  16. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    The level of ignorance one would have to maintain to affirm this is astounding.

    I think if you talk to non-religious historians they will say that, for instance, the gospels cannot be treated like a non-religious text. For obvious reasons. For sure, the biases of ancient historians (e.g. Josephus) need to be considered, but their writings are far more objective.

    Its interesting to see that Other Simon uses philosophy to argue

    I do not deny that I use philosophy in that I use logic. Although I don’t really consider logic a part of philosophy. Because it is as silly to say that I use philosophy because I use logic, as it is to say that a person who excercises their moral opinion uses philosophy because the study of morality is a part of philosophy.

    I consider philosophy as being opposed to evidentiary studies. Again, it is not a black and white thing, it is a continuum with philosophy at the very little evidence end and science at the other.

    But if this principle – to show with 100% certainty that…

    I am merely trying to show that theism is on a par with the magic trolls. Which it is, when considering the evidence (or absence of it).

    If “2nd hand evidence” refers to someone else’s experiential evidence, then one would have to give suitable defeaters similar to the defeaters used for astrology and fortune-telling to conclude that said evidence is of the same quality as that used by astrologers and the like.
    Yes, it refers to someone else’s experience of evidence.
    No defeater is needed here. What is needed is for people convinced of second hand evidence for god to take it is seriously as they do second hand evidence for astrology.

    In fact, to attain the certainty of ¬P in step 5,…

    Stuart, do you find me insisting that you need to have 100% certainly of things? Of course not. That’s not the way the world works. We very rarely, if ever, have absolute certainty about anything!

    Frankly, I think your bent towards enumerated logical arguments is a ruse; you use it because it means that you can incessantly claim “you can’t be 100% sure”, and you do this so that you can steer topics away from the real issue, which is what is reasonable. And theism is as reasonable as astrology.

    Just consider the textual evidence alone and by itself for Christ as the progenitor of Christianity….

    What. Two gospels which copy the first and take license with the rest of their narrative to promote their biases, and a third gospel in which Jesus is so arrogant and self-important that it beggars belief.

    Too right the evidence for Julius Caesar is more trustworthy!

    if other religious historical claims agree with the historical claims of Christianity

    Please elaborate. I know not of these.

  17. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I think if you talk to non-religious historians they will say that, for instance, the gospels cannot be treated like a non-religious text.

    Again, that is just ignorance.

    I do not deny that I use philosophy in that I use logic. Although I don’t really consider logic a part of philosophy. Because it is as silly to say that I use philosophy because I use logic, as it is to say that a person who excercises their moral opinion uses philosophy because the study of morality is a part of philosophy.

    Actually, your example of moral opinion and philosophy is not silly. And by admitting you use logic, you are constrained by the rules of logic which are philosophical in nature. You can’t avoid philosophy. Everything is philosophical. Even the statement, “I don’t think we should be using philosophy.” Thus…

    I consider philosophy as being opposed to evidentiary studies. Again, it is not a black and white thing, it is a continuum with philosophy at the very little evidence end and science at the other.

    … is your problem.

    I am merely trying to show that theism is on a par with the magic trolls. Which it is, when considering the evidence (or absence of it).

    Which is it not when considering the presence of evidence, both philosophical and experiential.

    Stuart, do you find me insisting that you need to have 100% certainly of things?

    I just took you at your word, when you said “one could not be more certain that P does not exist” If you would like to retract that, fine.

    And theism is as reasonable as astrology.

    One would have to give suitable defeaters similar in quality to the defeaters used for astrology conclude that.

    Two gospels which copy the first and take license with the rest of their narrative to promote their biases, and a third gospel in which Jesus is so arrogant and self-important that it beggars belief.

    Do you really think that the extent of the textual evidence for Christ as the progenitor of Christianity is the (three?) gospels? What a laugh! Do some honest research and get back to me.

    Stuart: if other religious historical claims agree with the historical claims of Christianity
    Other Simon: Please elaborate. I know not of these.I know not of these.

    You were the one that first mentioned “historical evidence is on a par with a myriad of other religions.” You need to elaborate before I can.

  18. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Frankly, I think your bent towards enumerated logical arguments is a ruse; you use it because it means that you can incessantly claim “you can’t be 100% sure”, and you do this so that you can steer topics away from the real issue, which is what is reasonable.

    Behold! One and all. Come an witness my nefarious plan… to use logical arguments to steer away from what is truly reasonable. Ha ha!

  19. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    If my claims about what impartial historians think is ignorant, feel free to prove me wrong. Till then I’m going to put in with the likes of Ehrman.

    Okay, then, one can’t avoid philosophy. I have no problem with that. My philosophy, and the philosophy of many others, is that evidence of a scientific nature is what is needed to reasonably conclude that something exists. And for extra-ordinary claims one needs extra-ordinary evidence. You have neither.

    I do think, though, that the statement “I don’t think we should be using philosophy.” is not really philosophy. It is empirical. I observe that there are smart people (philosophers even) on both sides of a philosophical argument, and I conclude that philosophy is clearly no way to tell who is right. This is an empirical, and entirely sensible, observation.

    Which is it not when considering the presence of evidence, both philosophical and experiential.

    Again. There is much philosophical ‘evidence’ against a god, and much experiential ‘evidence’ against a god, or for different gods or for insane things like alien abductions.
    Now you probably think that you can go through all of the philosophical arguments against god (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Arguments_against_the_existence_of_God) and ‘disprove’ them all. This is highly arrogant when you consider that many proffesional philosophers do not believe in god and would use many of the argumets.

    One would have to give suitable defeaters similar in quality to the defeaters used for astrology conclude that.

    Easy. Astrology can be disproven by requesting a way to verify that astrology is true, and testing it. It will turn out null every time.
    The same is true of theism. Prayer, miracles, morality….choose anything, and it will turn out nothing. It will look as though there is not god at all.

    Do you really think that the extent of the textual evidence for Christ as the progenitor of Christianity is the (three?) gospels? What a laugh! Do some honest research and get back to me.

    Okay, three gospels and Paul, basically. But so what? Other religions have their “textual evidence” too. What is the most sensible conclusion upon realising that there are a multitude of religious texts from a multitude of religions? Same as for philosophical arguments, I’m afraid.

    “historical evidence is on a par with a myriad of other religions.”

    I think you misunderstand. The standard of evidence is; I was certainly not saying that historical evidence for other religions concurs with christianity!??

  20. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Behold! One and all. Come an witness my nefarious plan… to use logical arguments to steer away from what is truly reasonable. Ha ha!

    Te be fair, it’s probably partly an unconscious thing. If a person has no convincing evidence for something all that is left for them is to naysay others by demanding that the other be 100% sure of things, and to resort to philosophical ‘evidence’. Naturally, then, religious thinking is necessarily driven into the realm of philosophical ‘evidence’.

    What is reasonable is objective, testable, falsifiable evidence. Theism fails, terribly. And until theism comes up with some modern and undisputable evidence, I am right to ignore it.

  21. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    Stuart: Do you really think that the extent of the textual evidence for Christ as the progenitor of Christianity is the (three?) gospels? What a laugh! Do some honest research and get back to me.

    Other Simon: Okay, three gospels and Paul, basically.

    No, I said go away and do some honest research and then get back to me. Again, three gospels? And is Paul all that is left to give textual evidence for Christ as the progenitor of Christianity? At first you made me laugh. Now I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    I do think, though, that the statement “I don’t think we should be using philosophy.” is not really philosophy. It is empirical.

    And what is empiricism, I wonder? perhaps… a philosophy? And what is “empirical” about the statement “I don’t think we should be using philosophy”? perhaps…

    I observe that there are smart people (philosophers even) on both sides of a philosophical argument, and I conclude that philosophy is clearly no way to tell who is right. This is an empirical, and entirely sensible, observation.

    Ok, so the observation was empirical. But, *whoops* your conclusion was philosophical in nature. O dear!

    Now you probably think that you can go through all of the philosophical arguments against god (…) and ‘disprove’ them all. This is highly arrogant when you consider that many proffesional philosophers do not believe in god and would use many of the argumets.

    O so philosophers are arrogant are they? That sword cuts both ways Other Simon!

    Theres another sword that cuts both ways as well – I suppose you think you can disprove all the arguments for God.

    I’ll tell you what. You pick one atheistic argument you’d like to advocate, and I’ll see what I can do about presenting the best version of it and critiquing it.

    Prayer, miracles, morality…

    These are not defeaters for theism. These are defeaters for God being involved in the world.

  22. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    I am far more knowledgeable about the NT than most christians. I intend to do no more further research into christian textual evidence than you do Islamic textual research.

    I agree that the paradigm ’empiricism’ can be treated as a philosophy. It is the best epistmological model that we have. To me empiricism is ‘merely’ a philosophy, as christianity is ‘merely’ a philosophy to you.

    The dirference is, you can’t disagree with empiricism. Christianity on the other hand….

    Ok, so the observation was empirical. But, *whoops* your conclusion was philosophical in nature. O dear!

    Ultimately, I will argue that empiricism is not a philosophy any more than assuming that the-most-accurate-model-of-the-world-around-us is the most true. It is just obvious, and the most natural thing.

    O so philosophers are arrogant are they? That sword cuts both ways Other Simon!

    I’ve no doubt some of them are. But I am quite confident that most of them are not as naive as you in thinking that they can disprove all of the arguments that oppose their position:

    Theres another sword that cuts both ways as well – I suppose you think you can disprove all the arguments for God.

    No. I am not blinded by pre-beliefs which dictate that all arguments against my position must necessarily be false. My view of the world is far more….mature, than that. As I have said many times before, I think that there is merit to arguments on both sides of the philosophical argument. This was only ever going to be the case in a discipline where evidence is further down in priority.

    These are not defeaters for theism. These are defeaters for God being involved in the world.

    Unfalsifiability is the hallmark of all quackery.

    I quite like the omnipotence paradox:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox

  23. OriginalSimon
    OriginalSimon says:

    No I don’t advocate or dismiss arguments on the basis of the conclusion.

    I think you do. I think we all do. This is the only rational conclusion given the disparate beliefs of philosophical academia. It is simply not rational to conclude that most philosophers are irrational or deluded or all mistaken.

    Again, philosophical arguments don't solve anything because we all weight them differently given our backgrounds, Construction of knowledge, experience of some things and lack of experience of other things etc. Solid ground can only be found using the scientific standard of evidence. This is not just another philosophy; or rather, it IS if you consider the demand for unanimity in a field to be a marker of true knowledge. I don't think anyone would deny that unanimity is the best marker for true knowledge, but I can see why people – and thinkingmatters – would argue that there is true knowledge where there is not unanimity. But that's like arguing which language is the correct one.

  24. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Original Simon

    Stuart: No I don’t advocate or dismiss arguments on the basis of the conclusion.
    Original Simon: I think you do. I think we all do.

    Its kinda like this. My friends are all continuing reality’s in my life. The impact of their existence is evident all the time. If someone were to try to convince me with clever arguments that my friends do not exist then, however cleverly framed or plausible their arguments may sound, on the basis of the conclusion (which contradicts my own personal experience) these arguments aren’t going to pursued.

    But as a philosopher and a thinker, I want to evaluate the arguments for and against with as much objectivity as possible. And as someone with a deep desire to know and believe what is true, if there were any arguments for atheism powerful enough to negate all my personal experience, then I confess I would be quite shaken. But the thing is, there are none that I have found. And there are none that you wish (or have had time to) to clearly advocate.

    This is the only rational conclusion given the disparate beliefs of philosophical academia.

    Actually that is not the only rational conclusion. Given human fallenness and the noetic effects of sin, it is not so irrational to think that philosophers (and people in general) will come to have disparate conclusions. Add to that pride and the drive for autonomy, and lack of knowledge of the suite of arguments, its not all that surprising people of all stripes and colours, including philosophers will have disparate beliefs regarding God’s existence.

    It is simply not rational to conclude that most philosophers are irrational or deluded or all mistaken

    Regarding God’s existence, it is not that case that all philosophers are mistaken – Some are theists! Besudes, I don’t think most atheists are irrational. I think they’re mistaken, for sure. But we don’t find the truth by counting numbers anyway (not in philosophy and not in science), so why would disparate beliefs matter at all?

    Solid ground can only be found using the scientific standard of evidence.

    Two words: (1) Self-defeating. (2) Scientism.

    This is not just another philosophy…

    Yes it is.

    or rather, it IS if you consider the demand for unanimity in a field to be a marker of true knowledge

    No one sensible believes that unanimity is a condition for truth, or even knowledge of the truth. I’d admit that unanimity is powerfully persuasive, but its also a logical fallacy. Possibly why you say,

    I don’t think anyone would deny that unanimity is the best marker for true knowledge

    So you can argue by appeal to unanimity (which, in respect to God’s existence, you don’t have, by the way), but we at thinking matters hold to a higher standard of right thinking.

  25. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Stuart: No I don’t advocate or dismiss arguments on the basis of the conclusion.

    Original Simon: I think you do. I think we all do.

    What I mean to say is

  26. OriginalSimon
    OriginalSimon says:

    if there were any arguments for atheism powerful enough to negate all my personal experience, then I confess I would

    Ah, but there will never be any argument that can displace your personal experience, because personal experience is very…….personal! If you look at your arguments (A) – (D) in your OP above they are all quite contrived or at the very least the exceptions to the rules. This is because the evidence that you are listening to is personal, not actual – because actual evidence doesn't exist (or rather it is not definitive, e.g. philosophical 'evidence').

    I think you need to address personal evidence fairly. Look at all the personal experiences of everybody, and consider them as seriously as you do your own, because those people certainly do! And when those people do not accept your logic as defeating their personal experiences, remember what you yourself have said: "however cleverly framed or plausible their arguments may sound, on the basis of the conclusion (which contradicts my own personal experience) these arguments aren't going to pursued."

    Actually that is not the only rational conclusion…..

    Then ther are a practically infinite amount of 'rational conclusions' involving Grand Consipracy Theories as yours does. All fail to incorporate the right of others to have an opinion just as valid as yours. Recourse to 'right thinking' here is useless considering that there are just as many 'right thinkers' who are not theists.

    But we don't find the truth by counting numbers anyway

    Ultimately we do. Even with science. Certainly there are principles put in place like the-theory-that-agrees-with-reality-the-best-is-correct, but how are these put in place? By scientists past and present. And the field of science is validated by the society from which it sprung.
    As for philosophy, you are in a rather crazy position, since you discount most philosophers' opinons on god, they must all be prove-wrong-able, but the proof is, of course, far from unanimous (and when conclusions are far from unanymous….) and largely (entirely) in the realm of 'personal experiences'.

    So you can argue by appeal to unanimity (which, in respect to God's existence, you don't have, by the way), but we at thinking matters hold to a higher standard of right thinking.

    I do in the field of empiricism, evidence. There is no evidence for a god. All of the evidence for god is in useless realms such as philosophy where there is no unanimity.
    Your 'higher standard of thinking' is circular. Clearly you do not rely on a representative bunch of thinking from the field of philosophy since there is no unanimity. So you must just pick and choose – and this is my whole point, you can 'prove' anything you want in philosophy.

    No one sensible believes that unanimity is a condition for truth, or even knowledge of the truth. I'd admit that unanimity is powerfully persuasive, but its also a logical fallacy. Possibly why you say,

    No one sensible believes in a desceptive god who hides from view and makes the world look exactly as it would if he didn't exist….Oh, that's right, philosophy allows these perverse things!

    Yes it is.

    I don't consider it a philosophy that the world around us is testable and observable. It is just an observation; empiricism, and that the further we progress the more this observation is shown to be successful. Theism – your theism at least – goes the other way. It is a regression back to theological occasionalism. And your evidence? Well, there is none. That's the problem with theological occasionalism.

    "Why do smart people believe weird things? Because they are better at using reason to back up those beliefs" – Michael Shermer
    The problem with philosophy is that who knows when biases start to kick in and reason starts to be used as a tool for an end rather than an unbiased pursuit? That's why positivism came about (yes it's self-refuting but not via empiricism) This is what ThinkingMatters is mostly, I think, hijacked reasoning used to argue for a pre-conclusion. Say, what would a field look like if (1) reasoning was untrustworthy and could be used to argue for false actualities, and (2) that field was not reined in by empiricism? It'd look like the field of philosophy.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Thinking Matters » Blog Archive » A Familiar Conversation: Part 1 […]

  2. […] Design and is currently studying theology at Laidlaw College. Read more from himIn my precious post A Familiar Conversation: Part 1, I analyzed an argument for Atheism, and discussed the hidden second premise “The absence of […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *