Atheism is a more reasonable position than theism
So to the question at hand which is whether atheism is a more reasonable position to take than theism. The question is not necessarily about whether there is a God or not, rather about whether one is using one's reason when one believes in a personal god; for belief in a personal god is precisely what is required to be a theist.
A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an impersonal force, such as the Absolute, "the All", or the "Ground of Being".
"Theism" is a term coined by Ralph Cudworth in the late 17th Century. I am perfectly comfortable using his definition as, I hope, Pfalcon will be:
"[They are] strictly and properly called Theists who affirm that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things"
Cudworth, Ralph (1678). The True Intellectual System of the Universe, Vol. I. New York: Gould & Newman, 1837, p. 267.
I hope also that there will not be any argument about the definition of atheism, which for simplicity can be defined as the non-acceptance of the basic theistic claim. Thus all people are divided cleanly into two groups: those who accept the claim that there is a personal god who caused all things (theists) and those who do not accept that claim (atheists).
I contend that it is far more rational and reasonable to not accept that claim, given the absence of any meaningful evidence.
I graciously accept AndyHood’s challenge. I’m hoping this will be an enlightening and engaging exchange.
Burden of Proof
Majority of the Burden of Proof rests upon PRO to establish that “Atheism is a more reasonable position than theism”. Positive arguments must be provided by PRO towards that end. I also have a portion of the Burden of Proof, but only insofar as I must offer reasons to consider PRO’s arguments either inadequate to establish the resolution as true, or else wrong entirely.
If PRO either (A) fails to provide any positive arguments, (B) is unable to defend his arguments against my rebuttals, or (C) concedes, I should be awarded the points for arguments. If PRO’s arguments do succeed (that is, neither (A) nor (B) nor (C) obtains), however, he should be awarded the points for arguments.
What is “Reasonable”?
I see a definition for “theist”, “atheist”, and “personal god”, but no definition for “Reasonable”.
In terms of belief, that which is “reasonable” is that which is (1) supported by logic (at least one of deductive, inductive or abductive), (2) supported by evidence, (3) an axiomatic assumption, or (4)some combination thereof (for example, logical inferences from axioms and evidence-supported propositions). There might be another way to justify belief, but I’m not sure what that would be. This list seems, to me, to be exhaustive.
For clarity, I will provide a belief and a way in which it can be justified.
(1) The belief that “Socrates is mortal” can be justified by argument, like so:
(2) The belief that “mammals give live birth” can be justified by evidence, either via personal witness or else through scientific studies.
(3) The belief that “I exist” cannot be justified through any level of evidence, as evidence presumes existence, and it is difficult to justify through argument. Yet we still believe it. Almost any other belief necessarily assumes one’s existence. This is similar to the belief in other minds or sense-objects. Some epistemologists call these “basic beliefs” because they are not inferred by any other belief and we believe them because they seem evident to the senses or seem indubitable.
(4) It seems that most beliefs could be said to be justified in more than one of the other three ways, so I’ve included this to ensure all beliefs at least can potentially be justified, even if they are not in fact justified.
Now, with that definition and explication out of the way, I leave it to PRO to argue for the resolution.
Before we begin on the debate proper, though, I'd like to spend some time examining what the debate is really about and, in principle, how either party could be fairly said to have won the debate. I would like to do so by comparing this debate to an analogous debate: Not believing in the Yeti is more reasonable than believing in the Yeti. I contend that unless we accept some form of special pleading when it comes to God claims (special pleading is a logical fallacy), then we must accept that these debates are, in principle, analogous. (I'm not saying that belief in God is as daft as belief in the Yeti, I'm saying that we should handle the questions in similarly dispassionate ways, using logic not emotion or gut feeling).
Now, let's consider the debate on whether it is reasonable to believe in a Yeti in a bit more detail. Does Pro necessarily have to show that the Yeti does not exist to win the hearts and minds of the audience and, thus, the debate? What can Pro do in order to win? Perhaps you are of the viewpoint that Pro absolutely has to prove the non-existence of the Yeti to win... I mean, the debate asks the question in general and it wouldn't matter whether Con believed or not, nor would it matter if Con did believe and could only provide rubbish justifications... the question at hand was not "is Con's belief unreasonable?" but, rather, "is belief in general unreasonable?".
At this point, I'd like to point out that most people will agree with the side that they believe in, whatever arguments are made. We would accept that belief in a Yeti is unreasonable in a heartbeat but since so many people out there do believe in a God, it's a tough challenge to persuade them that said belief is, in fact, unfounded in reason. In the case of the belief in the Yeti, Pro could essentially say "there is no credible evidence to support the Yeti, so belief in the Yeti is unreasonable" and would almost win by default... Con would be left declaring second-hand eye witness accounts and pictures of suspiciously large footprints. Everybody would be unconvinced by Con's evidence and, lacking any evidence themselves, would consider Pro's a resounding victory... Con would be dismissed as a bit of a nutter.
Consider the debate that we're in now, though... I can claim that there is no credible evidence for any gods and I am certain that this is true... proving that is somewhat tricky, though, and even if I pick apart any arguments that Con makes or evidence that they provide (showing them to be little more than second hand eye witness accounts or pictures of suspiciously large footprints), it will remain true that most people continue to believe in a God and make the assumption (with post rationalizations) that they are being logical and reasonable in believing. I'm not asking people to change their minds about their beliefs; I'm simply asking people to question deeply whether they have sufficient evidence or reason to justify their beliefs.
Broadly speaking, reasons for belief in God fall into the following categories:
1. Pressure from parents, friends, community, parole boards, proselytising churches
2. Fear of hell-fire / Promise of salvation (Pascal's Wager)
3. Personal revelation
4. Rubbish arguments such as the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument or the Argument from Design (apologetics)
I shall return to all four of these in future rounds.
With the exception of personal revelation, none of these reasons count as even half-way reasonable to justify belief.
Personal revelation is a bit of a fly in the ointment, but I hope that we can all be honest with ourselves and recognise how easy it to be fooled by our own imaginations. If you really do believe in your personal revelation, have you considered the number of people who have personal revelations that directly contradict yours? What about those who have seen fairies, angels, ghosts, devils, aliens... heck, there are people who will swear blind that they've been abducted by aliens!
I posit that there really is nothing available on this benighted planet that could count as reasonable evidence or reasonable argument that could justify belief. Carry on believing if you must but I beseech you be honest about the fact that the belief is not founded in good reason.
I would like to thank PRO for submitting their round.
PRO begins by drawing an analogy between this debate and a debate on the reasonability of belief in the Yeti. This analogy is unsuccessful, for two main reasons.
Burden of Proof Revisted
Here, again, PRO attempts to shift the BoP. I don’t need to provide reasons against the resolution. PRO needs to provide reasons for it. This debate is not “Belief in God is reasonable”. It is “Atheism is a more reasonable position than theism”. PRO must establish this via argument and/or evidence.
The idea of a “default position” would not serve to affirm the reasonableness of atheism over theism, as there are several positions which we consider reasonable which are not default positions, yet are not supported by reason or evidence either.
Each of these is, generally, held as a reasonable belief. Even if we can’t provide evidence for any of these (and it should be easy to see that we can’t), generally, we hold it to be reasonable to accept these propositions. There is a group (philosophical skeptics) that hold such beliefs to be unreasonable, for one reason or another, but it would be trivially true that belief in God is unreasonable if all beliefs are unreasonable. However, if all beliefs are unreasonable, there cannot be grounds (reasons) to consider beliefs unreasonable, as the use of evidence and logic as a test for reasonableness presupposes the proper operation of logic and reliability of the senses.
Sufficiency of Personal Experience
We believe in an external world primarily on the basis that we seem to perceive it. The every-day John Doe is not going to ask himself “Am I being deceived by an evil deceiver?” when he goes outside. It seems obvious to us that an external world exists, but it is still possible we’re wrong.
While everyone believes in an external world, the experience of an external world is wholly subjective. All of us might experience an external world, however, by the very nature of the case, the existence of an external world cannot be proven. It isn’t that it has yet to be proven. It is not possible to prove the existence of an external world.
Similarly, there are those who experience what they consider to be the touch of the divine. In the same way belief in [the existence of an external world] is reached from personal experience, so too can belief in [the existence of a personal creator of the universe] be reach from personal experience.
I await PRO’s positive arguments for the claim that “Atheism is more reasonable than theism”. As it stands now, no positive arguments for this conclusion have been offered. PRO has yet to affirm the resolution.
Again, I do not need to provide positive arguments for God’s existence, I only need to rebut PRO’s arguments.
I concede that God, as an explanation, has great explanatory power. Suspiciously great explanatory power. Infinite explanatory power, in fact. The fact that "God did it" could be used as an explanation of absolutely any question should tell you all you need to know. Also of note is that "Fairies did it" is universally replaceable. Anyhow, even if you go along with Con and agree with the Cosmological Argument, you may have confirmed Desim, but not Theism. You haven't gone any way to showing that this God who you think you've proved must have a personality... must think... must be capable of judgements and of getting involved - these are the claims that theism makes, which I contend it cannot be based in reason to accept.
The argument from Personal Experience is a remarkably poor one. Amongst the anomolies that must be explained by people who think that it is reasonable to draw conclusions from Personal Experience are these:
+ Why should we believe personal revelation in an epistemological sense?
+ How come different people have different personal revelations?
+ How come earnest and committed believers sometimes lose their faith?
Thus I rebut both challenges to my analogy and repeat: we should treat the debate about the existence of God in the same way as we treat the debate about the existence of the Yeti. We should remove our emotional outlook and ask for demonstrable evidence. THIS is the rational, reasonable thing to do.
Going on and on about the Burden of Proof achieves nothing. The Burden of Proof (see http://en.wikipedia.org...) is simply the idea that one needs to back up a statement by evidence or reason; believing a thing without evidence and continuing to believe it in the face of challenge whilst hiding behind "haha, you can't prove my belief false" is what is known as "shifting the burden of proof". It's a trick that I accuse Theists of doing all the time.
We have an interesting situation with this debate, which will require voters to make up their own minds; essentially the claim that the title makes is logically equivalent to the claim that Theists cannot live up to their burden of proof.
Now I own a burden of proof to show that Theists cannot live up to their burden of proof.
My task is made easier by the fact that most Theists actually agree with me; this is evidenced by the line "you've got to have Faith". That faith is considered a virtue seems to me the perfect expression of the idea that there is no evidence for God. If God made himself known, the argument goes, we wouldn't need faith... that's why, some theists contend, God does not make himself known (i.e. there is no evidence for His existence).
Believing through faith is almost by definition not believing through reason. Faith picks up where reason ends. If one is using faith to believe, then one has essentially admitted to not being able to live up to the burden of proof.
So, Con, do you have faith? If so, your belief is not rational. If not, since you believe, you do actually have to provide positive arguments for God's existence here and now.
You see, it is one of the options available to you; you could either take the line that faith in God is rational and based in reason... something like Pascal's Wager, I suppose... or you can take the line that faith is not needed to believe in God and provide evidence (there is none) or reasoned argument (there are a few and they are all more logically leaky than a supernatural sieve)!
So how's about you stop repeating "Burden Of Proof" and stop avoiding yours?
PRO doesn’t seem to understand that Burden of Proof is on him to affirm the resolution. PRO is making a positive claim, PRO must provide evidence. Sans any evidence or argument to make the resolution plausible, the resolution cannot be affirmed and points for arguments (should) go to me.
PRO asks “Why should we believe personal revelation in an epistemological sense?”
I never said personal revelation. The term I used was personal experience. Personal revelation has to do with true belief; God, supposedly, reveals itself to us. Personal experience, however, has to do with reasonable belief, and we already understand personal experience in an epistomelogical sense. I will put the basic argument into a syllogism
If I have an experience E or perception C which would require that p be the case, E or C entails p, on the assumption that *there are no skeptical scenarios at play.*
This seems to be a pragmatic assumption for the purposes of ascertaining what could be rationally held beliefs. On one hand, if this assumption is not made, no beliefs can be reasonable, not even belief in an external world or the reliability of our senses, which is a prerequisite of using evidence to justify belief. In other words, we must assume that the evidence we are collecting is accurate. So, not only is this a useful day-to-day assumption, it is also a necessary assumption for any field, group, or person claiming to study the world.
If I experience pain, it is reasonable for me to believe the proposition [I am in pain] However, if I see a shadow on my wall and form the belief [Someone is behind me], a defeater for this belief would be that no one is, in fact, behind me. The belief is falsified. However, if the shadow on the wall is mine, and I come to realize this, that would be a defeater as well. However, what is not a defeater is the idea that I am “just seeing things”. It is possible that I’m just seeing things, but it’s also possible I am, in fact, seeing a shadow. Without a way to tell if it is true that I’m “just seeing things”, this is not a plausible defeater, although it is a possible defeater.
*This presentation doesn’t have to be from another person. S cannot present themselves with a defeater. EX: I check behind me to see if the shadow is being cast by someone behind me.
On the inference from P4 to P5
I will explain what I mean by “entails” in this argument; to be sure, having a belief that p does not make it true that p. Rather, similar to how my perception of a tree or experience of pain presupposes the reliability of my senses and existence of an external world, so too would at least some spiritual experiences presuppose the existence of God.
Responses to PRO
Those two claims are not logically equivalent. As I have argued through this entire post, the very act of expecting to be provided or providing evidence presupposes the existence of a physical world from which to gather evidence, as well as the reliability of our senses through which to interpret evidence, yet we don’t ask for evidence of either of these. Yet we still consider belief in the external world and reliability of our senses reasonable. That being the case, evidence is not the only thing which can make a belief reasonable. If evidence is not the only thing that can make belief reasonable then, (even without evidence) belief in God can be reasonable, in the very same way belief in the external world is reasonable. Without any positive reasons to consider belief in God reasonable, it is as reasonable lack-of-belief in God, which means the falsehood of the resolution that “Atheism is a more reasonable position than theism”.
Affirmation of Deism
Deism can be a form of theism. Even if deism and theism were wholly distinct, I never even presented the Cosmological Argument. I merely said that God can explain the existence of the universe, in the same way that my shirt being wet and it being cold outside can explain my cold. God can be posited for several other things, but that doesn’t mean belief in God is unreasonable. A “God dunnit” belief is only tangential to the belief that God exists. I was pointing out differences between God and the Yeti.
I quote myself as evidence that I do indeed understand that I have a burden of proof:
"Now I own a burden of proof to show that Theists cannot live up to their burden of proof"
It will, in the end, be down to the voters to decide whether I have met that burden. I ask you, gentle reader, to consider this: if I can convincingly show that Theists don't live up to their burden of proof then I will have met my burden for this debate. This is simply because atheism is nothing more than the rejection of theism. If the camp of theism does not meet its burden of proof then, ipso facto, rejection of theism (atheism) is more reasonable than acceptance (theism). So, how can I possibly demonstrate that the camp of theism does not meet its burden of proof? Especially since the BOP is such an individual thing... we all require different levels of evidence before we accept a claim.
The idea of Burden of Proof really is trivially simple - one must back up what one says or believes with sufficient evidence and/or reason - it should only really come into a discussion or debate when somebody is trying to shift the burden of proof. And, of course, what constitutes sufficient depends on the situation and the individual.
Generally speaking, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I mean, if you tell me that your name is Tom, I'll probably believe you... that you're telling me is probably sufficient for me. On the other hand, if you tell me that your name is Tom Junior and your father is the mythical Tom Thumb, I'm going to want to see some strong evidence before I believe that.
Thus, I suggest that making an existence claim about such an extraordinary thing as a supernatural deity with personality owns a very heavy burden of proof. Do you not think, so, gentle reader?
To agree in principle with the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (which I think most people do) but to think that for some unexplained reason that "god-claims about my God are different" is special pleading and a logical fallacy. It's quite okay for you to do that (and many people do) - your mind and your beliefs are your concern... but, anybody employing this logical fallacy is not being reasonable
So, we have before us an extraordinary claim:
There exists an all-powerful supernatural deity with a personality, who created everything that we experience
The debate is absolutely about whether it can be called more reasonable (based in reason) to accept this claim, or more reasonable to reject it. Notice that I say "reject it", not "believe that it's wrong"; that might sound like a technical difference, but it's just like a law court finding a defendant "not guilty". They do not declare the defendant "innocent", they just return a verdict that "there was insufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty".
I ask you to consider, therefore, which is the most reasonable statement (you do have to be one or the other).
"I accept the claim that there exists an all-powerful supernatural deity with a personality, who created everything"
"I do not accept the claim that there exists an all-powerful supernatural deity with a personality, who created everything"
NOBODY IS ASKING ANYBODY TO SAY THE FOLLOWING
"I accept the claim that there DOES NOT exist an all-powerful supernatural deity with a personality"
Now - the question is - is there sufficient evidence available to accept the claim? The answer is, of course, that there is no evidence. Believe me, there is no evidence. If there were, don't you think that we would have heard about it from the camp of Theism? If there were evidence, all of those millions of believers of various faiths would have found it by now and would be making quite a song and dance about it. People would be studying that evidence with vigour and vim - it would immediately be the greatest possible experiment that Man could engage in. This would be a very different World.
But, instead of offering evidence, supporters of the claim that there exists an all-powerful supernatural deity are quite open that "you have to have faith". They have constructed a story in which "you can't know God until you surrender yourself to him". And, of course, like the Emperor's New Clothes, we are told that if you cannot see it then there's something wrong with you - don't admit that you can't see it in public!. That's probably why Atheists are given such a bad name in religious circles!
I offer these as my reasons for finding atheism more reasonable than theism:
Theists present no evidence (if there were any, they would)
Theists make a virtue of faith
Thus I conclude that theists haven't met their burden of proof (and that bar should be high for such an extraordinary claim) with anything like sufficient evidence (there is none). Atheism is more reasonable.
I would like to note that PRO has made absolutely no responses to my argument in R3. If the premises of the argument are true, the conclusion follows necessarily and I have offered reasons to find the premises plausibly true.
Lack of Evidence
PRO has repeated the same argument since the beginning of this debate: “Theism has no evidence to support it, therefore theism is unreasonable”. I would like to note the key unstated, and more importantly unsupported, premise that “Beliefs without evidence to support them are unreasonable”. I have already explained that we do not have, and arguably cannot have, any evidence of the reliability of our senses or the existence of the external world, as the very act of gathering evidence presupposes that our senses are reliable and an external world exists. However, we do not have evidence for either of these.
Following PRO’s own reasoning, it is unreasonable to believe in the existence of an external world or the reliability of our senses, yet PRO continues to assert that evidence for the existence of God must be available for belief in God to be reasonable. Evidence requires that W and C both be true, but per PRO’s own reasoning, it is unreasonable to believe either of these is true. Even if these are in fact true, sans any reason to believe that they are true, we are not justified in believing them. Believing either of these is unreasonable. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to believe the conclusions reach from these beliefs. I will illustrate via example.
Suppose I believe that (1) Jim has 10 coins in his pocket. Suppose further that I believe (2) Jim owns a Chevy Camaro. I believe (1) because I saw Jim reach into each of his pockets (pants, shirt, and jacket) and pull out 3 quarters, 6 dimes and 1 nickel. I believe (2) because every day for the last two years, Jim has driven to and from work in the same Chevy Camaro. From the conjunction of (1) and (2), I form the belief that (3) the man with 10 coins in his pocket owns a Chevy Camaro. If (1) and (2) are true, (3) must be true as well; this is the nature of deductive logic and identity. However, suppose (1) is not true; Jim actually has 12 coins in his pockets; (3) would then be false as well because the man who has 10 coins in his pocket is not identical to Jim, and Jim owns the Camaro.
In the same way that the falsity of (1) transfers to (3), the unreasonableness of a belief transfers to the conclusion reached from that belief combined with other beliefs. It is the combination of two (or more) true or plausibly true propositions that generates a true or plausible conclusion. If one of those propositions is false or plausibly false, the conclusion does not follow from them.
If is unreasonable to believe W and C, then it is also unreasonable to believe anything suggested by evidence. So, either (A) PRO must accept the conclusions and implications from the argument above or else (B) concede that evidence is not the only thing which makes belief reasonable. Either of these undermines his argument, and they are the only options available to him.
Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence
I was wondering when this would pop up. I have never heard or seen this claim directed at anything other than God’s existence. I do not think this is a coincidence. It seems to me that there are several other extraordinary claims, like the two I’ve repeatedly mentioned during this debate. However, rarely do we even ask for mediocre evidence for these. They are metaphysical claims that we cannot hope to prove conclusively. In this way, they are similar to the claim that God exists. So, it seems to be Special Pleading to accept them without evidence, but reject the claim that God exists due to lack of evidence.
I have offered positive reasons to believe the resolution is false. PRO has not responded to my Argument from Experience. I have offered another argument here. I have also offered reasons to suppose PRO's argument thus far is insufficient to establish the resolution. I will not offer any new arguments next round, out of kindness to my opponent. I hope PRO will give better reasons to believe the resolution than “Theists can’t provide evidence”. I’ve given reasons to suppose that having evidence isn’t the only thing that can make belief reasonable.
AndyHood forfeited this round.
It is unfortunate that my opponent forfeited the last round. I urge voters to take account of this in their voting decisions.
I will simply re-state the arguments I’ve presented so far.
Argument from Experience
P1. For all propositions p, unless there are plausible defeaters for p presented* to S, if a subject S’ personal perceptions and experiences entail p, it is prima facie reasonable for S to believe (assent to) p.
P2. There are no plausible defeaters for the belief that [God exists] presented to S.
P3. S’ personal experiences and perceptions include [spiritual experiences of God].
P4. A necessary condition for S’ spiritual experiences is that God exists.
P5. S’ spiritual experiences entail [God exists].
C. Hence, it is prima facie reasonable for S to believe that [God exists].
I defended Premise one by citing common sense examples of reasonable beliefs. This assumes a foundationalist account of justification (which can be problematic), but since PRO has already made several such assumptions, it seems unobjectionable that I do the same.
Premise two runs along these same common-sense lines. Surely, any belief for which there are defeaters presented to S, it is unreasonable to have those beliefs. However, PRO’s only objection thus far to theistic belief has been that there is a lack of evidence. This, however, falls prey to the
A1. It is unreasonable to believe any proposition p that is not supported by evidence. (Assertion by PRO)
P1. Proposition W [An external world exists] is not supported by evidence.
C1. From A1 and P1, believing W is unreasonable.
P2. Proposition C [Human cognitive faculties (our senses and reason) are reliable] is not supported by evidence
C2. From A1 and P2, believing C is unreasonable.
The implications of this argument are powerful. It is the conjunction and W and C that allows us to collect evidence, since it is unreasonable to believe W and C (alone or together) it is unreasonable to believe anything which follows from them, similar to how truth or falsehood transfers from premises to conclusions. This means that believing anything based on evidence is unreasonable, leading to a severe problem for PRO. On the assumption A1 above, evidence is required to make a belief reasonable, but evidence cannot justify a belief in C or W, which negates the justificatory power of evidence. So, either A1 is false or else all beliefs are equally unreasonable.
That being the case, PRO’s arguments fail to affirm the resolution. I would go so far as to suggest that these arguments serve to negate the resolution.
I urge voters to take into considerations PRO’s forfeit in this last round. Not only have I presented reasons against the resolution, PRO has also left my arguments standing. These two should, ideally, lead to my receipt of conduct and arguments.
I would like to thank AndyHood for this debate. It took me some time to formulate my argument, and I appreciate the opportunity to think.
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