The Instigator
Matthew_Wright
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
popculturepooka
Con (against)
Winning
8 Points

Athiests do not need proof

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
popculturepooka
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/19/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,662 times Debate No: 18866
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (12)
Votes (2)

 

Matthew_Wright

Pro

I state that, contrary to what I hear much of the time, an athiest does not require proof in the same sense as a theist requires proof for their claim.

My debater should be arguing that I require proof that a theistic God does not exist.

Round 1 is for acceptance and initial argument for Con.
Rounds 2&3: arguments/rebuttals
Round 4: summary

popculturepooka

Con

Thanks to Pro.

Pro has helpfully provided two definitions:

Atheist: One who denies the existence of a God/Deity.

Proof: Evidence sufficient to establish a claim as true.

I do not know the argument my opponent intends to advance in favor of his contention but I think the only reasonable way someone could clam that the atheist need not furnish proof in the same sense as the theist is if they argue, or assume, that atheism is the default position in any debate on the existence of God. This is called "the presumption of atheism". [1] The basic idea is that atheism is the presumed position - just like one is presumed innocent in the court of law. Just as it takes sufficiently strong reasons and proof to move from an "innocent" to "guilty" verdict, it should sufficiently strong reasons and proof to move us from "atheist" to "theist".

This all seems reasonable enough until one asks oneself why exactly is it the case that atheism should get this presumptive status. There should be some kind of principle we should be able to derive the presumption of atheism from.

1) The default position is whatever common ground both parties can assent to. (I'm going to introduce imaginary parties just for the heck of it.). So presumably Adina the Atheist and Theo the Theist agree that there is a universe composed of the sort of things found in the theories of physics. Adina says that since they both agree to that common ground and Theo goes beyond it to posit a divine reality therefore Adina's position is the default. But Theo can reply that Adina also goes beyond common ground by saying there is nothing more or nothing over and above the universe. So that can't be a good way to justify the presumption of atheism.

2) Adina unperturbed tries another principle: the default position is the negative one. So whomever is affirming some positive proposition they are put upon to furnish proof their assertion. Theo believes God exists and that is an affirmative, positive proposition; Adina believes God doesn't exist which is the negative position. The problem is this leading to a wide-ranging skepticism if we had to assume for everything that the default position is the negative one and that it requires sufficient reasons and proof to move us from negative to positive. For instance, take a look at the following positions - these are actual philosophical positions, mind you -: The external, mind-independent world doesn't exist, [2] beliefs don't exist, [3] composite objects don't exist (i.e. rocks, stars, your body). [4] No one actually believes these are the default, common-sense positions that require strong evidence to overturn, but yet they are the negative position. And some of these positions (especially the first one) are notoriously hard to refute and many agree while there aren't really any successful arguments against it, it is still reasonable to believe that the external, mind-independent world does exist. So this principle can't be used to establish the presumption of atheism either.

3) Adina has one more principle to try: the default position should be any position that is more probable or likely. Adina would say that theism is more improbable than atheism so therefore atheism should be the default position. Theo would likely be unimpressed by this assertion because it is not at all obvious to him that atheism is is more probable.
And this comes to the crux of the problem when assigning prior probabilities to metaphysical positions - it's hard to tell what the correct estimate of probability or likelihood would even be. And that is largely because the process of assigning prior probabilities to some propositions is a subjective matter [5] - it all depends on Adina and Theo's background beliefs. Adina may think the prior probability of God existing is, roughly, 10% or lower, while Theo may think the prior probability of God existing is 90% or higher. Or perhaps Adina and Theo would agree it's hard to even assign a sensible prior probability degree to God's existence. It's hard to establish a default position based on a principle that allows for such a wide variety of subjective prior probabilities. Surely a principle would have a more, well, principled way of ferreting out a default position.

This is not all that can be said for the presumption of atheist but, I think, absent that, it is clear that the atheist must provide proof just as the theist does for their respective claims.

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[1] http://www.philosophyofreligion.info...
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org...
[3] http://plato.stanford.edu...
[4] http://plato.stanford.edu...
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 1
Matthew_Wright

Pro

First, I’ll say that I am thrilled to have my debate picked up by someone as articulate and well versed in argumentation as you seem to be.

You have done a great job of analyzing all of the avenues in which I could have taken approach to—with one exception of course.

As I state in my initial claim, I do in fact hold that in this argument over the existence of an immaterial, omniscient, and omnipotent God, atheism (or the denial of the existence of such a being) is the default position. And I attempt my best to explain why:

Con’s 2nd argument states: “The problem is this leading to a wide-ranging skepticism if we had to assume for everything that the default position is the negative one and that it requires sufficient reasons and proof to move us from negative to positive.” Con goes on to furnish examples of negative assumptions on beliefs, physical objects, etc.
The problem is that Con has missed the major distinction that a traditional God falls under: Unlike the examples Con cites, the concept of God violates the Aristotelian laws of non-contradiction.

As an atheist, I would never claim that a unicorn (simply defined as a horse with a horn on its head) could never exist or does not exist now on some other planet in some other place in the universe. But a living, breathing unicorn does not contradict itself. On the other hand, if someone claimed that a carbon-based living unicorn could transcend time, was immaterial, and existed before the creation of the universe, then I would hope that anyone with a reasonable knowledge of biology would assume this to be false.

I can deny the existence of God on the argument’s lack of merits in logic. So why is God self-contradictory? I will hit on three examples:

First, omniscience and omnipotence are mutually exclusive since a God that knows what will happen tomorrow, cannot then change it without compromising his omniscience.

Secondly, consciousness is an effect of matter, specifically biological matter as in our brains. Believing that consciousness is immaterial contradicts our every observation and would be akin to believing that sound can exist in the absence of movement.

Third, a God can only be rationally defined as existing if it can directly or indirectly be observed--yet this contradicts His immaterial and unobservable form.

The problem with the agnostic position and assuming that a God could possibly exist is that they must accept the illogical contradiction. The only way around this contradiction is for theists and agnostics to invent a new Realm in which this contradiction is allowed to exist. That would be akin to declaring that square circles are contradictory and cannot exist—so create a new realm in which square circles can exist! This does not solve the problem.

Gods are self-contradictory. Gods cannot exist. No proof is required.
popculturepooka

Con

Thanks to Pro for his rebuttal.

Pro argues that I have missed one option (his) with regards to atheism receiving the vaunted "presumptive status" or the "default position" in the debate about the existence of God (who is understood as the God of classical theism). I think that Pro has unwittingly committed himself to my position - which, if you recall, is that the theist and the atheist both have a shared burden of proof. Here is how: Pro claims that the very notion of God is logically incoherent or impossible. (That this may be so is immaterial to point I am about to make.) But notice what he has done here - he has advanced a claim and provided reasons for thinking it's true with his three arguments for the non-existence of God. One might get the wrong idea and reasonably assume that Pro has shouldered a burden of proof here in attempting to prove why God could not possibly exist! Indeed Pro has offered arguments (proofs) that run something like this:

1) If God is omniscient, then he knows everything, including all of his future choices.
If God knows all of his future choices, then he cannot change his mind in the future.
If God can change his mind, then he cannot have been omniscient in the first place.
If God cannot change his mind (i.e. his hands are tied), then he is not omnipotent.
#3 and #4 cannot exist at the same time, because a person cannot both be able to change their mind, and not be able to change their mind. [1]

2) Necessarily, consciousness is an effect of the brain
God does not have a brain.
Therefore, God is not a conscious being.
Necessarily, God is a conscious being.
Therefore, God does not exist.

3)All existent things can be directly or indirectly observed
God cannot be directly or indirectly observed
Therefore, God is not an existent thing

When a person A makes a claim that some X is logically impossible and x's logical impossibility is not immediately obvious (i.e. that of a square circle) is falls upon A to furnish an argument for x's logical impossibility. What is person B's natural reaction? "Oh yeah? Prove it!" It won't do just state A's position on x's logical impossibility is the default position. So, in short, Pro seems to implicitly agree with my position that the atheist and theist need to both provide proofs and reasons for their respective positions because that is exactly what Pro has done!

Back to Pro.

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[1] http://brevis.me...
Debate Round No. 2
Matthew_Wright

Pro

Matthew_Wright forfeited this round.
popculturepooka

Con

Extend my arguments. :(
Debate Round No. 3
Matthew_Wright

Pro

Matthew_Wright forfeited this round.
popculturepooka

Con

Extend my arguments. Thanks for reading.
Debate Round No. 4
12 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by GeoLaureate8 5 years ago
GeoLaureate8
Great debate! I hope someone else tackles this debate against pcp without a forfeit.
Posted by Gileandos 5 years ago
Gileandos
I read this every now and again. I agree absolutely masterful.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
Thanks, Molzahn.
Posted by Molzahn 5 years ago
Molzahn
Pcp has masterfully tackled his opponent's position. The moment he was pressed into arguing within the realm of semantics he was defeated. I expected Pcp to elaborate on a possible, logically valid form of God. Instead he pulled argumentation completely sidestepping the topic altogether. Well done.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
Oh, yeaaaaah. *kool aid man voice* He even involved some philosophy of mind which is right up my alley. :D
Posted by tvellalott 5 years ago
tvellalott
I'll be watching this one. Your opening argument was excellent PCP, but Pro's rebuttal was decent. Interested to see where this goes.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
Thanks, guys.
Posted by HmblySkTrth 5 years ago
HmblySkTrth
Yes, this should be a good debate. While I contend that agnosticism does not require roof, I contend that atheism does.
Posted by unitedandy 5 years ago
unitedandy
I used to agree with Pro, but I'm not really sure if this argument can be salvaged, because of what Pop was saying, and other reasons as well. Anyway, should be a good read. Good luck to both of you guys.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by BlackVoid 5 years ago
BlackVoid
Matthew_WrightpopculturepookaTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit
Vote Placed by wiploc 5 years ago
wiploc
Matthew_WrightpopculturepookaTied
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Great job of making your case, pop. I agree with Pro, but you destroyed his case. Conduct point for forfeit.