Something regarding atheism vs religion - not sure yet
Debate Rounds (5)
One day, Mike hired a service to promote his website, and that service posted several comments to The Atheist Experience blog. (That's the stored given to me by Mike in email.) Here is the post.
The posts invited people to come to Mike's blog, IIRC in the interests of feedback and I assumed debate, and I went there and posted some counter-arguments to the claims on Mike's blog. I am unable to find links to these posts at this time. That led to an email exchange, which has thus far culminated in this.
I am not sure what to expect out of this. Mike asked me to start this debate. I gave a brief description of my general position, and Mike said that would be fine as an opening statement for the debate.
For the record, I think it not important who "wins" the debate. Victory in a debate like this is not a good measure of truth nor accuracy.
IMHO, my position is simple, straightforward, and common. I do not pretend to speak for all atheists, nor a majority of atheists, but IMHO my views are common in the atheist communities, especially the one's that I would defend.
I am a humanist. I value the safety, freedom, self determination, happiness, material wealth, and so on, of people, of humans, and of other intelligent non-human animals.
I am a scientist - in the sense that I use science and that I advocate for the use of science. When I say this, I advocate both a narrow view of science as something done by professional scientists, and a broad view of science that includes all proper rational thinking based on evidence.
I am an atheist. Words do not have intrinsic meaning. Words do not have immutable definitions. Words and language have meaning only insofar as there is consensus and agreement on the meanings of words. I use the definition of "atheist" which is IMO the most common usage by far in the community of people who identify as "atheist". An atheist is simply someone who lacks a positive belief in the assertion that there is a god or gods. Someone who believes that there are no gods is an atheist. Someone who is undecided on the issue is an atheist. Someone who says "I do not know" on the issue is an atheist.
I am also a strong atheist - in the following sense. IMHO, there is no clear meaning to the term "strong atheist", and I do not purport to give one here. Merely, I wish to express my strong confidence, my strong belief, that all of the gods of popular human religions do not exist. This is a positive assertion, and by making it I bear the cultural convention known as the "burden of proof".
However, for other god hypotheses, especially the god hypotheses that are carefully tailored to be untestable, such as first cause gods and deist gods, my position is that "I do not know, and you do not either". What I mean by that is that I believe I do not have sufficient evidence at my disposal - any evidence really - for or against a deist god, and I also believe on the basis of strong evidence that you very likely do not have any better evidence than I that would be for or against a deist god.
I am also a skeptic. This should be part of being a scientist, but let me call it out specifically here. Almost everything I believe, if not everything I believe, is open to doubt. I am not absolutely certain about anything. When I say "I believe X is true" or "I know X is true" or "I am certain X is true", I am merely using colloquial shorthand, and when pressed, I will immediately clarify by stating that everything I know and believe might be wrong, and I am always open to future evidence and argument to change my mind. However, it should also be said that while I might lack absolute confidence, I might have extremely high confidence. My confidence that the Sun will rise tomorrow is extremely high, so high that for all practical purposes I do not question it, and I base my life on the premise that it's true.
I believe in the is-ought distinction, often attributed to Hume. In short, no amount of observation about the world should be enough by itself to convince you that you ought to take some action, or that you should take some action, or that it is morally right to take some action. You always need some starting moral principles, such as humanism, or perhaps extreme selfish egoism. Once you have some starting moral principles, then science can evaluate the efficacy of plans at achieving your goals, and observing the world become extremely necessary in order to help you achieve your goals. With starting moral premises, you can use observations from the world to deduce additional moral claims.
What often matters to me is not the belief itself, but the justification of the belief. I do not respect beliefs. I respect the person's justifications for their beliefs. However, requiring justifications quickly leads to a problem known by many names, such as the regress problem, or the M"nchhausen trilemma. If you assent that you should strive towards holding distinct analyzable beliefs and justifications, then it's formally provable that you will hit the M"nchhausen trilemma. I happen to prefer the axiomatic approach, specifically a closely related approach called foundherentism. What I mean by that is this: I have a very, very small collection of beliefs, my foundation, which may be mutually reinforcing, and with those beliefs and observation, I can logically deduce all of my other beliefs. Some of those foundational principles are: having the values of humanism, having the values of science, having the values of skepticism, rejecting Last Thursdayism and other forms of solipsism, and so forth.
It needs to be stressed that my strong atheism is not foundational. It is not true that I believe there are no gods on faith. Rather, My strong atheism is the result of the application of science and reasoning on my available evidence which strongly indicates that all of the gods of popular conception do not exist. I am a skeptic, and this conclusion, while strongly held, is tentative. In fact, I am willing to name specific hypothetical evidence which if found would convince me that a god exists, and in particular that the Christian god exists and is real. I would no longer be an atheist. (Note: "All-powerful", "all-knowing", etc., is not a necessary component of my current working definition of "god" nor "Christian god".)
Finally, to be extremely provocative, it is an entirely coherent possibility that I could be convinced that the Christian god exists and is real. I would not label myself an atheist. However, I would still not label myself a Christian. I would still be a humanist, and my valuing of human life, happiness, etc., would force me to take part in research programs on this incredible threat and menace to human life and well-being, in order to find a way to neutralize the threat. If Stargate SG-1 has taught me anything, it is that the proper response to an evil god is not to bow down and worship, but to blow it up. Nuke god! I'm sure many readers will say that's silly and we could never blow up god. My answer is that the goa'uld said the same thing, and we blew them up. We even blew up the Ori (with help). We'll never know if we can blow up god until we try. To parody Nietzsche, if the Christian god existed, then it would be necessary to destroy it.
I am also a materialist. This is a conclusion deduced from science, reason, and the available evidence. I suggest googling for Carl Sagan's garage dragon parable from his book "The Demon Haunted World" for a start of what evidence I would present to defend this assertion.
In particular, our knowledge of mind and brain has gotten to the point where we can say conclusively that there is no immaterial soul which persists after brain-death, and there is no immaterial soul which has any meaningful part of cognition. We have a plethora of cases of accidental brain damage and the effects on the mind. For example, with certain brain damage, you lose the ability to recognize faces. With a certain other kind of brain damage, you lose the ability to string together a proper English sentence, but you can still understand English. With a certain other kind of brain damage, you lose the ability to understand English, but you can still string together proper English sentences and speak them. With a certain other kind of brain damage, there's a strong propensity to become a habitual gambler. With a certain other kind of brain damage, you lose the ability to form memories. For every part of your mind, there is a corresponding part of the brain that we can destroy. It is incredibly foolish to think that any of you remains after brain death, and that you will be able to go to heaven, speak to grandma, understand grandma, remember grandma, be able to recognize grandma's face, etc.
Finally, our knowledge of physics leaves no room for the soul. We know how neural impulses lead to muscle contraction, and how that can lead to speech and action of the body. If you believe that there is an immaterial soul that does something, it necessarily entails the assertion that the soul interacts with particles in the brain (or body) to do something that would not otherwise happen by the materialist laws of physics. That in principle is detectable. We have good evidence it's not there.
For further reading on this topic, I suggest Daniel Dennett and Sean Carroll. For example:
Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality - Sean Carroll - Skepticon 5
Let me start at the end of your opening statement by clarifying that I personally agree with you regarding the nonexistence of the immaterial soul both for the reasons you mentioned and because I think the idea contradicts a sound reading of the Bible. At least as far as I am concerned, this topic can be taken off the table.
I also share your belief that we must approach this conversation with humility as we cannot know anything with absolute certainty. And, I agree with you regarding the importance of approaching this discussion rationally and scientifically.
Beyond that, here is a list of clarifications regarding my perspective on the theist/atheist debate:
1) I believe the role of theists in this debate should be defensive and not offensive. In other words, those theists who feel the need to impose their views on others both on a personal and a societal level need to stop. We have no business forcing atheists or any other group to adopt our worldview. And, we should learn, from thousands of years of recorded history as well as from numerous modern theocracies, the benefits of church/state separation and stop trying to impose our religious views on society, whether in politics, in science, or elsewhere. Yes, we do as theists have a responsibility to participate in this debate when our own worldview is under attack but not in order to attack the views of others or impose our perspective. And, this distinction should be kept very clear in every debate.
Now given that I approach debates in this way, I don't generally find discussions about the definition of atheism or about how the atheist constructs his own worldview very relevant to the conversation; not unless the atheist feels his methodology is the only/most rational one to use. My concern is primarily with what the atheist thinks of the theist worldview rather than of his own.
2) In my opinion, the theist/atheist debate has multiple layers each of which is dependent on the previous; sort of like a multistory structure where each floor cannot be built until the previous floor is completed. Christians and atheists are at almost opposite ends of a wide philosophical spectrum and, skipping over steps or tackling them in the wrong order will inevitably result in an unprofitable conversation. What I mean by this will become clearer as we move along since there might be times when an argument is presented and, in order to address it, I will have to address prerequisite topics first.
3) For any conversation to be productive there has to be some degree of mutual respect. If a flat-earther were to challenge a scientist to a debate, the scientist would be unable to take that conversation seriously; in essence, it's next to impossible for a person to be rational, educated and unbiased and still believe the earth is flat. In my experience however, a large number of atheists today relate to theists/Christians in the same way. Basically, it's not just that there is difference of opinion between us but atheists consider the evidence to be so obviously and so completely against the existence of God that there must be something wrong with anyone who believes otherwise. And, when either one or both parties in a discussion have such a view of the other, the conversation cannot continue as would a normal conversation.
One of my priorities in my interactions with atheists therefore has been to try to get to the bottom of why so many of them reason in this way. What I have concluded definitely does not apply to all atheists and you will have to let me know to what degree it applies to you if at all, but it does apply to a large number of the people I've talked to so far. The foundational reasoning of most atheists I've talked to can be summarized in very simplistic terms as follows:
Premise 1 - Because the theist is the one making the positive claim, the burden of proof is entirely on him.
Premise 2 - Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Premise 3 - The only acceptable form of evidence is Scientific Evidence.
Therefore, since no one has ever come even close to meeting this burden, the probability is high that god doesn't exist.
It is my belief that the majority of atheists who place theists on the same level with flat-earthers do so because they build their entire philosophical structure on this foundation. And, in my opinion, this foundation is flawed.
A more reasonable foundation would be as follows:
Premise 1 - The one Known or Given in this equation is that we exist; that plants, animals, planets, and the universe as a whole exist. The universe is not just a random arrangement of particles.
Premise 2 - Because we do exist, it stands to reason that we've gotten here somehow. And, there are multiple potential explanations: (1) the universe was intentionally created by an intelligent entity or, (2) the universe developed unassisted through naturalistic processes, or (3) there is some other explanation.
Premise 3 - Each of these propositions must be supported by evidence and the determination is made by contrasting the various options rather than by placing the entire burden of proof on just one of the options. Moreover, all these propositions are extraordinary and therefore all require extraordinary evidence.
Finally, when it comes to scientific evidence, the naturalistic methodology of science limits our ability to examine any of the supernatural options scientifically.
4) In a reality where God does not exist, the primary tools we would have at our disposal for learning about our reality and for examining the God question would be Reason and Science. Reason would allow us to make inferences regarding what are some of the possible explanations for our existence while science would allow us to test out those possibilities. In a reality where God DOES exist however, we would still have reason and science but we could potentially have an additional source of information: divine revelation. In other words, if a God does exist, it wouldn't be entirely up to us to look for Him. He could reach out to us as well. However, since both sides agree on reason and science as sources of information, these two should be discussed first.
5) Most theist debaters I am familiar with argue that it IS possible to demonstrate conclusively that God exists using logic and science alone. To do this they make use of arguments like the cosmological/first cause argument or the fine tuning argument, both of which, in my opinion, are flawed. They are flawed because they assume their own conclusions and because they are based on 18th century philosophy that is no longer persuasive in the scientific era. Atheists on the other hand feel that logic and science conclusively point in the opposite direction and I disagree with this as well. In my opinion, if we restrict ourselves to only logic and science, we don't have sufficient information to determine that the possibility of God's existence is significantly lower than 50%. And, I think most atheists would double-check themselves if they thought that there was a 50% chance that God exists. A large part of the problem in these debates is the inability of many atheists to understand the limitations of science; what we know and can know at this point in time.
6) I want to close with some quick definitions:
God - like you said, not necessarily all-powerful. God's omni attributes, whether true or not, tend to get in the way of the discussion, in my opinion.
Supernatural - 'any phenomenon which has its basis in entities and processes that transcend the spatiotemporal realm of impersonal matter and energy described by modern science.'
I get this definition from M. Boudry's paper (which I believe I've referred you to before).
In fact, for anyone else reading this, I believe there are two main camps among scientists when it comes to the role of naturalism in science, (a topic that tends to come up eventually) as described by these two papers:
I find it helpful to most conversations when I share these papers and my response below:
"Premise 1 - Because the theist is the one making the positive claim, the burden of proof is entirely on him."
I agree with your apparent position, and I disagree with a majority of atheists on this matter. A reasonable person has the onus to use all of the available information when informing their beliefs. If a person who makes a claim presents additional information, then the listener has an onus to also incorporate this additional information. (Of course, the listener may decide that the new information is mere hearsay, and may place an appropriately small weight on hearsay.) The burden of proof is simply irrelevant to this process.
The burden of proof is a cultural convention, a cultural rule, a cultural more, which says that the claimer should not try to place a requirement on the listener to do further research. It's a rule for fairness and to prevent someone from wasting someone else's time.
"Premise 3 - Each of these propositions must be supported by evidence and the determination is made by contrasting the various options rather than by placing the entire burden of proof on just one of the options."
I completely agree. The idea of a null hypothesis is often misused. The theist does not have the default position, and the strong atheist does not have the default position. The default position is "I do not know / I am undecided". If a reasonable person comes across sufficient and compelling evidence one way or the other, only then is the person warranted in being a theist or strong atheist. (Note: The "I do not know" position, the default position, is encompassed in the label "atheist".)
"Premise 3 - The only acceptable form of evidence is Scientific Evidence."
A theist once offered me the possibility as a defeater argument. Imagine a world where materialistic and naturalistic approaches always failed, and where prayer was effective, and amazingly so. In this world, the only reasonable position is to forgo naturalistic and materialistic science, and to use prayer. However, that conclusion is itself a scientific conclusion. In this world, we have premised that prayer works, and it survives many many tests that it works. That's science. It fits the cliche "scientific method" to a T.
Science does not depend on "methodological naturalism". Science does not assume the natural. Science does not work only on the natural. This is a very common notion, and it's simply wrong. I completely agree with the contents of the Boudry paper linked above, "How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism". I also endorse Scott Clifton's Skepticon 7 talk which has additional insights on the flaws of the "methodological naturalism" position.
When someone argues with this claim, I first ask "What other sort of evidence is acceptable?". Mike has preemptively given an answer: divine revelation. Thanks for moving that along. However, divine revelation is just another form of scientific evidence - a point I cover below.
"Premise 2 - Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
I had hoped to avoid invoking the name "Bayesian", but that seems unavoidable at this point.
We all start grossly ignorant about the world. For any particular specific claim, like "The sky is blue", "A god exists", "Ice is slippery", etc., we all start with zero relevant knowledge, and the only appropriate starting place is "I do not know / I am undecided". As we live our life, we collect knowledge. We look up at the sky and we see that a (cloudless) sky (on Earth) is blue. We stand on ice and often slip, and we learn that ice is slippery. Our knowledge about how reality is comes from prior experience.
When I am presented with a claim, I first look to see if I have any relevant prior experience, prior knowledge. I use my prior knowledge and reason to then determine what is the reasonable likely truth of the matter. When new information comes in, then the ideal that I strive towards is to adjust my estimations of the likely truth of my beliefs based on this new information, and taking into account all of my previous information.
I have plenty of past experience that when someone releases a hammer from a height in normal household conditions, it falls to the ground. I have a lot of past experience that supports this truth. Suppose someone did a demonstration to the contrary. As a reasonable person, the onus is then on me to take this new information into account and modify my beliefs accordingly. I have to create a list of possible explanations, and keep in mind that perhaps I haven't stumbled across the correct explanation yet. In this particular case, a demonstration that hammers float in mid-air when released at a height in normal household conditions will cause me to use my prior information which will lead me to the conclusion that you are playing a trick on me, and that there are wires or magnets involved or something. In other words, my background knowledge is such that the claim "hammers float in mid-air when released at a height in normal household conditions" is highly unusual. It is highly unlikely to be true. It is extraordinary in that sense. To convince me of the truth of that proposition, I would need access to an amount of new information that is comparable to the wealth of prior information I have on the topic. This required additional new information would be quite massive in scale. It is extraordinary in that sense.
"Bayesian reasoning" is the name for the reasoning that I have been advocating above. All proper reasoning about testable claims of the world around us are Bayesian. For a proof of this, and for further explanation of what this means, I suggest the book "Proving History" by Dr. Richard Carrier.
"In a reality where God DOES exist however, we would still have reason and science but we could potentially have an additional source of information: divine revelation. In other words, if a God does exist, it wouldn't be entirely up to us to look for Him."
I never had an experience that I would describe as divine revelation, so please forgive me for covering my bases. Is divine revelation like someone whispering in your ear? Talking directly into your head? Is divine revelation like god rewriting your memories, beliefs, and behaviors? (The scifi term for that is mind-rape.)
First problem: There are plenty of alternative explanations for all of this experience. There are medical conditions, brain defects, that can do it. Perhaps there's a hidden electronic speaker which is the source of the sound. Perhaps the devil is speaking to you. We know that false memory syndrome is a common result from recovered memory therapy, and we know that false memories are all too easy to create. Mike, as a reasonable person, you need to examine all of these scenarios and see how well your evidence, your experience, fits each scenario. Bayesian reasoning 101. That is using reason and science to analyze divine revelation.
To put it another way, divine revelation is just like god passing you a note, which is just like me passing you a note. If I were to pass you a note, you would use science and reason to verify that the note actually came from me and not someone else. Further, this phrasing also shows another possibility - perhaps your god is just lying to you.
Any use of divine revelation is governed by the same epistemological rules that govern any other use of evidence, and those rules are reason and science.
You seem to have a massive intellectual blind-spot w.r.t. divine revelation and the proper use of reason and science.
I hope you're not using the words "divine revelation" in this context to refer to the contents of a particular book. If so, it should be amazingly obvious that you need to use reason and science to determine which book of which tradition (if any) is the genuine article. Perhaps you use another divine revelation to determine which book is the genuine article, but that additional divine revelation itself still needs to be verified with reason and science!
"In my opinion, if we restrict ourselves to only logic and science, we don't have sufficient information to determine that the possibility of God's existence is significantly lower than 50%."
For a nebulous and ill-defined first cause god, I completely agree. If you do not posit any additional characteristics, then its existence is indistinguishable from its non-existence, and a 50% estimation for its existence is an appropriate starting point.
However, if you start to posit additional details, then this changes drastically. For example, if you posit that the god largely matches the description of god in the Christian bible and the Christian tradition, then you can use logic and science to show that this god does not exist. It's commonly accepted that Genesis as history is fabrication and fiction. It's mainstream scholarship that Moses did not exist and Jewish slave exodus from Egypt is fiction. There are plenty of miracles attributed to Jesus that are demonstrably false, such as the 3 hours of darkness, and the zombie army that purportedly marched on Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51-53). The Christian tradition is obviously an invention of humans and not the result of a god. Even if there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere regarding a god, the god as described in the Christian tradition does not exist. Maybe some drastically different alternative god does exist. Ex: The lying hiding trickster god Loki exists and is the primary cause behind Christianity. Loki may exist, but it would be incorrect to say that Christian god exists because Loki exists.
First, I need to clarify what I meant by Devine Revelation since it wasn't the best use of words. A better phrase would have been God Initiated Contact (GIC). In other words, in a world where God doesn't exist people have no choice but to figure things out on their own. In a world where God does exist, this God could choose to reach out in some way. So depending on whether God exists or not, we can logically deduce that we either have two sources of information to work with, Reason and Science (R&S), or three sources, R&S and GIC. And you are right that any such divine contact would be subject to R&S.
However, I am not mentioning this to introduce an additional source of knowledge into the conversation but to point out that since theists and atheists agree on at least two of the three, the logical place to start the conversation is with the two we agree on. Moreover, what we conclude using reason and science will affect how we approach GIC so it makes sense to focus on R&S first. Basically, it is premature to get into a discussion on CIG at this point in time.
Beyond that, there are several points that, based on what you've said here or in the side comments, might or might not need further clarification. I will list them but I don't think we'll have time to address all of them in detail so I am going to focus on just one. I think a discussion of Methodological Naturalism will prove most useful so I will focus on that unless you think we need to address something else first.
1) I like what you said about the null hypothesis but I'm not completely sure how you meant it. Are you saying:
a) between the options 'God exists' and 'God doesn't' exist the default is 'we don't know.' Or,
b) between the hypotheses 'creation,' 'naturalism,' or 'whatever else' the default position is 'we don't know?'
I use the second because, like I mentioned previously, the starting question is, 'how did we get here', and, to come to a conclusion, we have to compare the different hypotheses to see which is more likely if any.
2) I'm assuming you mentioned the Bayesian to explain why extraordinary evidence is required and I agree with what you said but here is why extraordinary evidence is also required for the alternative/competing hypothesis. For naturalism to be true a series of dilemmas have to be resolved explaining how the universe got from its original state to what it is today.
The simplest way to explain this is to think back to what it would have been like for an eighteenth century biologist starting to recognize the complexities of living organisms and having no mechanism to explain how this could emerge naturally. To such a person a naturalistic hypothesis would have seemed ludicrous.
3) I don't know for sure but we might need to spend some time defining the supernatural. Many definitions make it so that the supernatural cannot exist by definition, which is a waste of everyone's time. One of the things that I appreciated about Boudry's paper was that he gave several examples of bad definitions and then provided what I think is a much better one.
I also watched Scott Clifton's talk, (which incidentally I was looking for just a few days ago) and I had a similar issue with it. Towards the end he was talking about how God's reality would also be 'natural.' And, in principle, I agree. But God's 'natural' would be so different than ours that it doesn't help the conversation not to make a distinction between the two realities. And natural/supernatural is just as good a distinction as any but we can always pick different terms if needed.
4) You mentioned that for some concepts of God like the first cause God and the deist God there isn't sufficient evidence to dismiss. But I do think it's important to work through each of these concepts in order of complexity. This allows us to eliminate variables and to determine where the fork in the road is in our understanding since that's where the debate should take place.
5) Methodological Naturalism (As mentioned, I will spend the remaining time here).
It isn't exactly that I disagree with you but I do need to make a distinction:
a) Present day supernatural intervention
You are right that any interaction of the supernatural with our reality WOULD be subject to science. If intercessory prayer worked consistently science would be able to detect that it worked even if unable to explain it. But there would need to be some consistency and repeatability or else other explanations would be more likely. This applies to any other kind of supernatural event that breaks into our reality.
b) Historical supernatural intervention (creation)
As an example, let's say that it was God that created the first living cells and evolution took over from there. Methodological naturalism (MN) means that scientists looking back and trying to understand angiogenesis will develop naturalistic hypotheses to try to explain how life emerged from non-life. This doesn't mean that this supernatural event is no longer subject to science but rather that it is addressed through a process of elimination rather than directly. We don't just come up with supernatural hypotheses in order to try to explain it because we wouldn't know what predictions to make based on such a hypothesis. Moreover, if we go straight to a supernatural hypothesis we might miss out on a naturalistic explanation that we could have discovered had we stuck with it a little longer. So we approach the problem by looking for a natural explanation but the likelihood that the event was supernatural increases as the naturalistic hypotheses we do come up with fail to resolve the problem.
In theory, given enough time, science could advance far enough to know for a fact that all the possible naturalistic explanations have been tried and have failed. And, in that sense, the historical supernatural would still be subject to science. In practice however, it's hard to ever really know that we have exhausted all the possible naturalistic explanations.
Another thing that should be mentioned here is the tentative nature of every scientific hypothesis and how certainty increases over time. Predictions are made, experiments are conducted and data is collected and, as this data is accumulated and consistently lines up with expectation the certainty increases.
Depending on the problem being studied, this process could take months, years, decades or even centuries. There could be initial confirmation of a hypothesis based on limited data and, a long time might pass before we collect sufficient data to determine that the hypothesis was actually wrong. So it's important to have a sense of how far along we are in the process with any given question. We might for the time being feel that we are well on our way to resolving a problem when, in another century or two, scientists will know that we were way off.
So when someone says that the only acceptable evidence for God is scientific evidence (in the context of the 3-premise argument against God in my previous comment,) they are asking for something NOW which realistically science would not be able to produce for centuries or even millennia, if at all.
Let me also mention in closing that another way people dismiss the supernatural is by pointing out that science has already resolved numerous puzzles that used to be considered supernatural: rain, earthquakes etc. There's no reason, they say, to think that given enough time, science will not also resolve every other remaining puzzle via a natural explanation. To me this basically equates to 'faith' in naturalism.
I personally don't find this argument compelling since, if I were the creator I would consider it poor engineering to create something that would require my constant attention to work properly. If I had to constantly intervene supernaturally to cause rain in order to keep things alive, I didn't do a very good job building the system.
It's probably best not to go much further without first getting some feedback so I'll let you respond to what I have so far.
What is this debate about? Is this a debate? I am defending my beliefs, my methods, and my positions. I expect you to do the same. What do you believe? And why do you believe it? Through the course of this debate, and in a long exchange of private emails beforehand, you have been completely unwilling to answer these basic questions. Please answer them now. Again, I have been forthright and honest enough to answer those same questions, and I am very willing to provide additional details on my beliefs and methods.
Do you believe that the Christian god exists? Do you believe that the Christian god exists in some part because of private - or public - communication from the Christian god? Please describe the nature of this communication. What evidence do you have for this communication? Just your own personal testimony and the testimony of other Christians? (Which is still just hearsay, albeit on a massive scale, which does make it slightly more compelling - barring certain objections that I can go into.) Do you have anything other than hearsay evidence for this presumably large-scale telepathic communication?
The default position for every question of objective factual questions of our shared reality is "I don't know / I am undecided".
Does a god exist? Without examining any evidence, the proper position is "I don't know / I am undecided". Does the universe have a beginning moment of time? Without examining any evidence, the proper position is "I don't know / I am undecided". If the universe had a beginning moment of time, what was the cause or explanation for the first moment of time? Without examining any evidence, the proper position is "I don't know / I am undecided".
When you gather relevant information, aka evidence, only then can you move towards some concrete claim, and only insofar as the evidence supports the claim.
Currently, I am firmly of the position that the words "natural" and "supernatural" as a dichotomy are not useful. They don't name concepts that are useful in discussions like this. The word "supernatural" seems to serve no purpose or function except to be used as a "get out of justification free card".
You said that the way to show something is supernatural is to discount every natural explanation. That's wrong. That is simply wrong. That can never work. For example, various flavors of "brain in a vat" are natural by standard conventions. Use the first "The Matrix" movie as an example. You can never discount that explanation because it's designed to be untestable, exactly like most god claims. In the Matrix hypothesis, we simple humans in The Matrix should expect that we will never get evidence that we're in The Matrix. First, because the Agents are really good at not producing that much evidence. Second, because the Agents regularly wipe the memory of humans in The Matrix who uncover the truth. The Matrix claim is a natural claim that you will never be able to disprove.
Supernatural claims do not have a monopoly on the untestable. There are plenty of untestable natural claims too.
The way to show something is supernatural is the same process to show that anything has any property. First, get a specific workable testabe definition for the property. Second, gather evidence which is more likely to exist if the proposition is true than if the proposition is false. For claims like those under discussion here, because of the massive number of competing claims, the only practical way that you can actually make inroads is to gather positive affirming evidence for your claim rather than evidence against some truly meager subset of competing claims.
Even then, suppose you do show that some thing is supernatural. You complain about the vast size of the set of natural hypotheses. Have you taken a moment to stop and consider the size of the set of supernatural hypotheses? What do you gain by showing that something is supernatural? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Just to drive this point home, and to share it with others. I can take the Christian bible and the Christian tradition where humanity is special, and I can replace "Earth" with "planet around some star", and replace "human" with "humanoid aliens of that planet". There's roughly a trillion trillion stars in the observable universe. With this process I can create a trillion trillion mutually incompatible god hypotheses that are all equally plausible. What good does it even do to show that a supernatural god exists in light of this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The idea of a god in a general sense is not interesting. It captures far too many mutually incompatible and the range of gods is far too broad for us to derive anything useful. And remember that this trillion trillion hypotheses of Christian god variants is but a very small drop in the bucket of god hypotheses, and remember that god hypotheses is but a very small drop in the bucket of all supernatural hypotheses.
Even first-cause god claims have plenty of alternatives. Maybe the universe is eternal in the past. Maybe the universe has a closed time-loop. Maybe some more exotic possibility - quantum theory and relativity should teach you that the world is weirder than you might first guess. If the universe had a beginning, maybe some non-intelligent thing is the cause, or maybe there is no cause. Further, I do not understand what the word "cause" means when applied to things outside of time.
If you want to convince me that a god exists, you're going to need to present the same kind of evidence that is needed to convince me that you have a friend named Bob.
Your mere personal testimony that you have a friend named Bob is a good start, but it's mere hearsay, and it's not all that compelling. In most circumstances, I might accept your claim because claims like this tend to be truthful rather than false or mistaken. However, if I had the slightest reason to suspect that you had a reason to be untruthful, then that would change. I have lots of knowledge that people lie about having friends all the time for reasons like vanity. In this particular case, I have lots of testimony from other people of other religions that you don't have a friend named Bob / your Christian god does not exist, which lowers the significance of your hearsay even further. Those same people give testimony that they have a friend named Charlie, and Charlie adamantly swears that Bob does not existence, which reduces the value of your hearsay testimony to basically zero.
If you had a letter from Bob with Bob's signature, that would be a good start. However, if we also have lots of evidence that shows that this letter is heavily doctored and contains a massive treasure-trove of lies and falsehoods - just like your bible by the way - then your letter has near-zero evidentiary value.
You could present Bob to me in person. That would be a good start. I suppose that it could just be a paid actor, but I wouldn't have a particularly strong reason to doubt your word nor the word of Bob at that point. If I were able to observe you interacting for an extended period of time, such as hanging out with you for several months at parties and get-togethers, then that would constitute really strong evidence. Unfortunately, your friend Bob, e.g. your god, has been hiding for several thousand years. He used to come to parties and do cool stuff like block out the sun and raise zombie armies, but he hasn't shown up in person since then.
Now, imagine how I'd react if you said you never actually met Bob in person, and it was all based on a voice in your head.
Let me stress that the kind of evidence I want for your friend Bob does not change if your friend Bob is a natural person, or a supernatural person. The question of natural-supernatural is simply irrelevant to the kind of evidence that I want. Now, if you further claim that Bob is 10 ft tall, or if you claim that Bob can do magic, of course I want additional evidence for that, but again please note that this is true for outrageous natural claims as well as outrageous supernatural claims. I will use the same methods and standards for natural claims and supernatural claims.
I have background knowledge that supernatural claims are at best extremely rare, and so I will properly demand additional evidence for any purported supernatural claim. That's assuming of course that anyone presents me a sufficiently rigorous definition of "supernatural" that I can even work with. This is a difference in quantity, not in kind. I'll still accept all of the same kinds of evidence in both cases, but in one case, some amounts of evidence won't be good enough because of my background knowledge against claims of one of the two kinds.
"Let me also mention in closing that another way people dismiss the supernatural is by pointing out that science has already resolved numerous puzzles that used to be considered supernatural: rain, earthquakes etc. There's no reason, they say, to think that given enough time, science will not also resolve every other remaining puzzle via a natural explanation. To me this basically equates to 'faith' in naturalism."
But there's an important difference. That conclusion is based on actual real evidence that we can all see, plus the one of the best imaginable track records. Every time there has been a conflict which has had a clear winner, materialism has won, and religion has lost. Materialism has won an uncountable number of battles over an amazingly wide range of battles. Doing a simple induction and extrapolation is not "taking it on faith". It's not being a fool.
A fool: Doing the same thing over and over again, getting the same result each time, and expecting a different result the next time.
Science: Doing the same thing over and over again, getting the same result each time, and expecting the same result the next time.
Are you able and willing to name specific hypothetical evidence which, if found, would convince you that your Christian god does not exist?
When talking to atheists my concern is with far more basic concepts:
1) Developing a working definition of the supernatural and the generic God. (A)
2) Developing a sound framework for how the problem should be approached. (B)
3) Identifying the role and limitations of science etc. (C)
A. You say that the natural/supernatural dichotomy isn't useful but only a get-out-of-justification-free card. But what then are we talking about here? If you don't like the terminology or the common definition, fix it. Since otherwise, there is nothing to discuss.
In my experience, atheists are only confused about these definitions when it is convenient. If talking about the success of science and materialism over other types of claims they seem to know exactly what the terms mean.
You stated that you completely agree with the contents of Boudry's paper so I assumed that you were in agreement with the section on definitions as well. Please go back and read section 4.1 again since you either disagree with that section or you're getting something totally different from it than I am. We can base further discussion about the definition of the supernatural on that section.
Once that is sorted out we can define the generic God as a supernatural entity that has will and intelligence, (not necessarily all-powerful) who:
1) Played a crucial role in bringing our universe into existence (the attributes of the deist god - I always insist on discussing this first).
2) Has an interest in human affairs and intervenes occasionally (the generic theist God who has the same attributes as the deist God + involvement).
B) You spent quite a bit of time explaining to me what it would take to convince you that I have a friend named Bob, but apparently you missed point #1 of my opening statement where I explained that I have no interest in convincing you of anything. I see my role in any such conversation as purely defensive. And this not because of personal preference but of necessity. In any situation where person A considers the position held by person B as outside the boundaries of acceptable/rational competing positions, a prerequisite conversation HAS to take place. 'Is the position held by person B rational' has to be discussed before determining which position is better.
So normally, if at the end of a conversation the available evidence is insufficient to move beyond 'we don't know,' the atheist could say that the theist has failed to convince him a god exists. But atheists today have portrayed theists as not just wrong but as completely unreasonable. And this has to mean that they have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the probability of God's existence is well below 50%.
I don't follow American football but let's say the Giants and the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl.
In scenario 1 let's say that both teams are pretty well matched so the game could go either way. In this case, the reasonable answer to the question, 'who is more likely to win,' is, 'we don't know.' And, if we don't know, you might believe the Giants will win while I the Patriots and we might both place bets on our respective teams, and, neither would be more irrational than the other for doing so.
In scenario 2 however, the Giants are at the top of their game while the only reason the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl was because any good team they had previously played against had key players missing due to injuries. In this case, it would not be rational for me to bet on the Patriots.
So if when using reason and science alone the only thing we can conclude about the existence of the generic God is, 'we don't know,' I am just as reasonable in believing He exists as you are in believing He doesn't. Unlike my football example where I could choose not to place a bet on either team, in life, whether I want to or not, I have to live according to one paradigm or the other. And, given that both options are equally likely, going with either option is equally rational. I am not admitting here that I have no additional reason for believing in God, just that I am under no obligation to provide it since, in a 50/50 situation, both choices are equally reasonable. So even if my only reason is my testimony and the testimony of others (i.e. hearsay) it doesn't matter since I need no additional reason (unless I am trying to convert YOU to theism, which I am not.)
Basically, in claiming that theism is unreasonable, atheists have assumed the responsibility to show that the evidence moves us well beyond 'we don't know.'
Now there are several ways atheists get themselves confused here:
1) They say things like, "using that type reasoning you could justify believing in unicorns." Basically, because atheists cannot produce sufficient scientific evidence to show that the probability unicorns exist is below 50%, a person is rational in believing they exist.
- Except that unicorns are not generally presented as one possible explanation for the existence of the universe. If unicorns don't exist, that doesn't require an alternative explanation for how the universe was produced.
2) "Well, what about the Muslim god and the Hindu gods and the flying spaghetti monster? This could apply to an infinite number of potential god-types not just your God."
- Sure. Except here we're talking about the generic God which would include any of these, even the unicorn in #1 if necessary.
3) "The burden is not on the atheist to demonstrate that God doesn't exist."
- No, the burden is to show that an alternative to the creator hypothesis is more likely.
4) "Naturalism is the default position."
- This one is especially frustrating to deal with since most atheists cannot even fathom a scenario where naturalism wouldn't be true (granted this problem usually stems from poor definitions).
The reality however is that naturalism is nothing more than a hypothesis which requires supporting evidence like any other hypothesis:
a) The starting question is, where did the universe come from?
b) The hypothesis is, 'it is the natural result of preexisting physical laws and fundamental forces acting upon matter/energy.'
c) This hypothesis would need to explain the conditions before the big bang, what caused the big bang, the resulting formation and behavior of stars, planets, etc., abiogenesis and so on.
d) Before evidence is produced for all these elements, believing that the hypothesis is correct is done on faith. The only thing we can rationally conclude based on insufficient evidence is, 'we don't know if this hypothesis is correct or not.'
The main alternative hypothesis (there could be other alternatives) to naturalism/materialism is that the universe was created/designed/engineered. But, without evidence for or against, all we can conclude again is, 'we don't know.' And, if the best conclusion we can come to is, 'we don't know,' then it is just as reasonable to believe in God as it is not to believe.
C. Regarding science, let me address your comment about the 'best imaginable track record.'
There are two things that we need to look at:
1) People considered many aspects of nature to be supernatural all of which turned out to be natural after all, and,
2) People attributed to the supernatural the creation of many aspects of nature which we can now show have developed naturally.
Let's say we built a car that ran on solar energy and could essentially go for months without stopping. And, let's say we dropped this car in a jungle where it was discovered by a tribe that had never been in contact with civilization.
At first, they thought it was some kind of monster. When they got closer and started to figure out how to drive it they decided it must be magical. But, as time went on, they discovered that more and more aspects of the car that they thought were magical actually had a logical explanation.
What you are saying is that the incredible track record of things they thought were magical but turned out not to be significantly decreases the likelihood that the car had a maker.
Throughout recorded history, people have made thousands of supernatural claims: God causes lightning and earthquakes, the immaterial soul produces our thoughts and personality, a statute of Mary is bleeding human blood etc. etc. And, science has debunked most of these claims. But, the inclination of uninformed people to make premature supernatural claims just isn't a good basis for a reliable track record.
But you might say that the car in my example was completely built by man while we have discovered that many aspects of nature developed naturally.
If I needed to move a large boulder over several hills I would only need to push it up the hills since gravity would do the job for me on the way down. If a God first put in place the laws of nature, these laws would do part of the work and God wouldn't need to do everything Himself. For example, if after the big bang gravity and centrifugal force were sufficient to shape the planets, then that is one less job God had to do Himself. So if the universe was created this doesn't mean that God had to be involved in every minor task.
Essentially, debunking tens of thousands of unreasonable supernatural claims is not a convincing argument for naturalism/materialism.
I'm open to a definition of "supernatural". You haven't given one yet.
We can probably define "god" without "supernatural". Example: The Christian god is a powerful creature, who is outside of space and time, who is responsible for the origin and creation of spacetime, and who has the ability to interact with space and time at specific points to do things like raise people from the dead, raise zombie armies, cause a human to walk on water, etc. The activities of the Christian god are accurately (mostly) described by the Christian bible. I fail to see how anything is gained by adding the word "supernatural".
I apologize for causing confusion regarding the use and seeming acceptance of the words "natural" and "supernatural". I thought it possible to avoid an argument over definitions. I was wrong.
I apologize for my impreciseness regarding the Boudry paper. I agree with many of its critiques and points. However, it does not go far enough. IMHO, in common discourse, the "supernatural" is too muddled to make use of.
I believe that "materialism" has a different meaning in common usage than "naturalism". "Materialism" more closely resembles the "matter in motion" paradigm described by Galileo, Baron d'Holbach, etc., whereas common usage "naturalism" is much more nebulous. (Again, I am open to specific definitions, and I haven't seen you propose any.)
You say that there are flaws in atheist reasoning, but you haven't given any specific examples with correction IIRC. Please point out particular flaws and offer specific, concrete, correct alternatives.
So if when using reason and science alone the only thing we can conclude about the existence of the generic God is, 'we don't know,' I am just as reasonable in believing He exists as you are in believing He doesn't.
You assert that I believe that a/the god does not exist. I believe this is not a typo. This is dishonest, or grossly incompetent. I have been exceedingly clear on my position on this topic.
Suppose you share a belief with me, and you share with me that you have no good justification for that belief, but I'm later able to confirm your belief as true. I would not be impressed. I would not be impressed because in this story I know that you got it right by luck, and I have no reason to believe that you will get similarly lucky the next time.
We should strive to think like scientists and not like fools. I gave my brief definitions of those terms above. Let me do so again.
A fool: Someone who does the same thing over and over again, gets the same result each time, and expects a different result next time.
A scientist: Someone who does the same thing over and over again, gets the same result each time, and expects the same result next time.
Otherwise known as induction, falsifiability. Science is creating expectations about the future by taking our knowledge about the past and assuming that the future will be like the past. The only limitation of science is that it works only on the observable, directly or indirectly observable. If you can observe it, then use science. If you cannot observe it, then science does not apply, but neither does anything else. In this context, there is no alternative way of knowing.
I have no respect for someone who makes wild guesses absent supporting evidence.
Repeating for emphasis: If divine revelation is real, then it's just another form of experience. Thus: the use of divine revelation is bound by the same rule that distinguish the scientist from the fool.
if [...] the available evidence is insufficient to move beyond 'we don't know,' the atheist could say that the theist has failed to convince him a god exists. But atheists today have portrayed theists as not just wrong but as completely unreasonable. And this has to mean that they have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the probability of God's existence is well below 50%.
Suppose I flipped a coin in the air, it lands, and I don't see it. I then declare "it landed heads". You ask "how do you know that?". I answer "Because I have a strong feeling". You should believe that I am reasoning very badly. Suppose I give any of the usual religious responses, such as "it brings me comfort", or "I don't want to live in a world where it's not heads", or "having this belief gives me community". You should still believe that I'm reasoning badly.
Saying that you are unjustified in your claim does not imply the assertion that your claim has the truth value of "false".
This is borrowed Sam Harris where he talks about a diamond buried in the backyard. Link - perhaps not-stable:
And, if we don't know, you might believe the Giants will win while I the Patriots and we might both place bets on our respective teams, and, neither would be more irrational than the other for doing so.
Both are irrational. Beliefs and claims without sufficient evidence are irrational.
'Is the position held by person B rational' has to be discussed before determining which position is better.
The better position is the more rational position. There are not two separate conversions. It is one and the same.
You have a silly understanding of atheists which does not apply to me. I have no preconceived bias against the so-called supernatural in general. I do have a bias against so-called magic and non-materialist religious claims that interact with our spacetime, but that's not a prejudice. It's not pre-judged. That bias is entirely based on my available evidence. It's entirely possible for you to overcome this judgment with sufficient evidence to the contrary. If you have that evidence, please present it. I have been waiting months and hundreds of emails for just that.
An alternative course of actions is to argue against my general materialist background assumption and evidence. That amounts to arguing against the most successful scientific theory ever created by humans, quantum field theory. For that, I wish you luck. You will need it.
Essentially, debunking tens of thousands of unreasonable supernatural claims is not a convincing argument for naturalism/materialism.
Quantum field theory and the standard model of physics accurately describe every experiment that has ever been done on Earth. QFT is by some measures the most accurately tested and successful scientific model ever made. It is entirely reasonable to inductively conclude that QFT is actually correct (in its domain of applicability). There is every reason to believe that a similar process will find a similar model that is entirely correct for all timespace of the observable universe. That's it. Materialism has won. The debate should have been over in the time of the Enlightenment and Galileo and Baron d'Holbach. Today, it's well into "beating a dead horse" territory.
The only gap left is the beginning. Unfortunately for you, the Christian god cannot be squeezed into that remaining gap. You should know that your endgame Christian god claim cannot fit into this gap. Further, I've already said I'm open to the idea of a generic god hypothesis, and that I have no bias whatsoever against the generic god hypothesis. In light of this, your continued focus on the generic god hypothesis serves no legitimate purpose. Your tactics are intellectually dishonest - no better than William Lane Craig.
Unlike my football example where I could choose not to place a bet on either team, in life, whether I want to or not, I have to live according to one paradigm or the other.
Classic Pascal's Wager.
The following reply is unusual in atheist circles, and often frowned upon. However, I believe it is the best counter because of my IMAO better knowledge of Bayesian reasoning.
A generic god hypothesis with no additional attributes is indistinguishable from a no-god hypothesis. There is no such thing as "living your life according to one paradigm or the other".
Pascal's Wager only makes sense when considering a god which has additional specific properties, such as rewarding those who believe in it and punishing those who don't. You are wrongly conflating "a generic god hypothesis" and "a god which rewards believers and punishes non-believers".
I might not be able to say anything about a generic god hypothesis, but I can say something about the Christian god hypothesis. Thus Pascal's Wager is defeated. I live my life according to the belief that the Christian god does not exist, but the way I live my life is consistent with a belief that no gods exist and a belief that a generic nondescript god exists.
I explained that I have no interest in convincing you of anything. I see my role in any such conversation as purely defensive.
Sherlock Holmes once said "If you eliminate the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". Correcting for imprecise language, that principle is entirely correct. It's a simple consequence of proper reasoning, Bayesian reasoning.
Many atheists wrongly believe they do not need to make positive arguments for no-god scenarios, and they only need to tear down a Christian's pro-god arguments to convince the Christian. If a Christian wrongly believes that no-god scenarios are impossible, then they can properly apply the reasoning of Sherlock to say "You have convinced me that the god hypothesis is a worse fit for the evidence than I originally thought. However, all alternatives are still much more implausible, and thus I still believe that a god exists."
Mike, you're making a similar error. My background knowledge is Christianity is incorrect with high confidence. You can tear down the no-god scenario, and you can build up the generic-god hypothesis, but that approach alone is highly unlikely to budge me towards Christianity because of my exceptionally strong evidence against the Christian god. To convince me of Christianity, you will almost certainly need to provide a positive defense of Christianity and/or attack my attacks on Christianity. Your current tactics are a waste of my time and yours.
Reading over your emails you seemed very insistent for me to explain my belief in specifically the Christian God, which I almost never do but, because we've been at this for a while, I will give you a quick overview. Once I do however, I already know how you will respond and, I am telling you now that I will not engage you on that topic as I have no interest in it at this time. Here's why:
1) I specifically told you in my emails that if I debate you, I will be debating as a theist and not as a Christian. Also, it is very clear in my book that this is how I always do things so there is no reason to be surprised that I am actually following my own advice. There are thousands of Christians in cyberspace you could have talked to if you didn't like my approach.
2) In a situation where I disagree with someone on points A and B and point B is dependent on a correct understanding of point A, I simply refuse to debate point B until point A is resolved. This, because I refuse to waste time in a conversation I already know cannot possibly get anywhere without addressing prerequisite differences first.
3) Because it is entirely my choice what position I choose to defend in a debate. I have even had debates with Christians where I argued as an atheist to make a point. I am under no obligation to defend everything I believe in every debate.
4) What atheists believe or don't believe about the Christian God doesn't affect me at all. I can coexist with atheists just fine just like I can coexist with Christians from other denominations that I disagree with on essential matters. What affects me and everyone else is when atheists portray God-belief in general as outside the boundaries of acceptable/rational belief systems. And this has nothing to do with the Christian God since atheists say the same thing about Muslims, Hindus or any other theistic group. (This is in no way an accusation against you personally. If this is not something you do then my book or anything I've said just doesn't apply to you and I don't really have anything else to say to you. My objections are for the people who do this.)
5) Talking about Christianity when there are so many, much more fundamental, differences does nothing except to open up dozens of cans of worms at the same time making it next to impossible to address any of the topics adequately. Since I am the one having to do most of the explaining, this just guarantees that I will never be able to get to everything. And, it gives the atheist room to wiggle out of situations; every time I am close to addressing an objection he could just switch to another one.
6) In many instances, the atheist could raise an objection in just 1 or 2 sentences that could potentially take me several pages to address. The more topics on the table at the same time the more this is multiplied and I just don't have the time to sit and type all day.
7) I believe that in any situation where two people disagree on a topic, this IS the only honest approach. They have to to be clear about definitions, to break the discussion down into manageable chucks, to cover the topics one at a time and in a logical sequence (if B depends on A, discuss A first) etc. If I was a Creationist who didn't know much biology and got into a discussion with an evolution professor, the honest thing for me to do would be to let him lay the foundation of genetic diversity, natural selection, mutations, the fossil record etc. instead of arguing against macro-evolution.
That being said, I will give you just a brief overview of how I make the case for the Christian God:
Let's say we have a scale where the closer you get to '0' the less likely God exists and the closer to '100' the more likely. We use reason & science only for now. At the beginning the scale is at 50.
1) I start with the deist god - a god who engineered our universe but who no longer intervenes. This in order to isolate variables since a god who intervenes through intercessory prayer is a different topic than God as creator. Here we compare hypothesis for how the universe came to exist. I expect that at the end of this conversation the scale will still be at 50.
2) I address the theist God. This God is just as much a creator as the deist God but also intervenes in people's lives today. My argument here is simply that if God intended for science to prove He intervenes, He would have revealed Himself openly from the start. Therefore, scientific detection of direct intervention cannot be expected and the scale remains at 50.
3) If after covering both these sections the scale is still at 50, I argue that it is just as reasonable to believe in God as not to believe. This is as far as we can get using Reason & Science (R&S) alone.
---- everything up to here is up for discussion; the rest is not at least for a while.
4) Given that belief in God is already rational, is there additional evidence outside R&S? Is there GIC, God Initiated Contact? There has to be something that is universal and not just for one of the religions. The evidence here is Providence - God intervenes in the individual's life in a personalized way. Every religion has people who follow the religion only culturally, but every religion has people who claim to have experienced God in a personal way: helped them in troubled times, guided them through life etc.
5) Compare religions - how do they address reasonable issues like suffering and evil, how do they explain human nature, what is the overall paradigm, is there logical consistency, what evidence do they provide for their claims, etc.
6) The Unique Selling Proposition offered by the Bible (in contrast with other religions) is Prophecy. It predicts things that already happened in history as well as things that will happen in the future that we can check by.
Again, I already know how you will respond to each of points 4-6 and do have an answer, but I will not be discussing this now.
Returning to our previous discussion, you made the point that a generic God is nondescript and therefore one cannot live according to the paradigm that it exists.
However, your generic god is different than mine. Your generic god is simply a meaningless word. Like saying, I believe blah blah exists. The generic theist God I am describing is generic in the sense that we don't yet know if He will turn out to be the God of Islam, or the Hindu god(s), or the God of some other religion or no religion. But while generic in this sense, we do have a partial description: He created the universe and us + He watches over people and interacts occasionally.
So if after looking at all the evidence that we can gather through science and reason there is still a good possibility that the generic God exists, yes, the correct conclusion is, we don't know. But people are justified in going with either option.
First, because the generic God has significant implications:
1) If this God has created the universe, he is a powerful being.
2) If he has gone through the trouble of creating everything and us, He probably has certain expectations and we need to be mindful how we live our lives.
Second, people have to choose how they relate to this question as it is more than just a mental exercise. It is a life question. Say someone gets to a fork in the road and the sign with directions is missing. The correct answer to the question, 'which way is the destination,' from the perspective of a mental exercise is, 'there is no way to tell so we might as well stay here.' But, in this situation, if a person chooses either the wrong path or neither path (I don't know so I won't make a decision), they still won't get to their destination. Basically, 'don't know' and 'wrong choice' have the same outcome. Many people, if facing the 50% probability that God exists will choose to live under the paradigm that He does and they are justified in doing so (and so is the atheist/agnostic in not doing so and theists should not claim otherwise).
The problem however is that atheists are arguing for a much smaller probability than 50%. You might say you don't do this but that is the outcome of arguments like your Bayesian reasoning argument. And, if atheists don't have good reason for doing this but are painting an incorrect picture of what actually can be known using reason and science, this is detrimental to society and this is the part where all the debates should be focused.
I'm out of space but I disagree with your point about using the Bayesian because this is something you use when you have previous data and no expectation of outcomes. If you found yourself in the middle of a desert, the fact that every step you have taken for miles leads to more sand is not an indication that this will always be the case since you expect that the desert will end eventually.
You mentioned QFT as some sort of check-mate move when I've already addressed this repeatedly and you just ignore it. There is a clear distinction between God keeping things running and God creating things. We have no reason to expect ANY part of our universe to have a supernatural basis. This in no way implies that it wasn't originally created. Once created, the universe works fine on its own. 0 previous meaningful data to base Bayesian on.
I hope to continue the conversation. However, a better venue would be good IMHO, such as a skype call, or just posting text posts on some forum somewhere without these length and time restrictions.
You use the phrase "belief in god is rational". I believe that you mean to discuss "belief in god may be rational, and belief in god would be rational with sufficient evidence".
I know many atheists have a prejudiced bias against the so-called supernatural. It often goes by the name "methodological naturalism". This probably is an important point in discussions with atheists.
However, this is not a problem for me. You should know this. In the very first post here, I stated that I would be willing to name specific hypothetical evidence that would convince me that the Christian god exists. In a later post, I rejected the usefulness of the natural-supernatural dichotomy. Both imply an acceptance of your claim. You are not reading what I write. You are wasting my time. Please stop wasting my time.
Of course, we disagree about the reasonable conclusions that we can draw from the available evidence. You need to name a specific god hypothesis, describe it in some detail, describe what predictions the hypothesis makes, and describe what available evidence you have that supports the hypothesis. Then we can have a discussion about it. I've been wanting that from day 1 of our conversation. You've been avoiding. Please stop wasting my time.
Your notion of evidence and science is overly restrictive and sterile. All first-person experience is evidence, and that's the only kind of evidence. All of the following are kinds of evidence: seeing the results of a blood DNA analysis, being a witness to a crime, hearing the testimony of a witness to a crime, hearing the hearsay testimony of a witness to a crime, hearing voices in your head from a god. Divine revelation is just another kind of evidence, and the use of divine revelation is governed by the same rules that govern the use of any kind of evidence. Divine revelation is not special. I refuse to recognize it as special. God speaking in your head is not fundamentally different than me sending you a text message. The use of both kinds of evidence are governed by the same rules of rationality.
Of course, not all evidence should be given equal worth. For example, in the past, we humans over time have seen that hearing direct eye witness testimony is independently confirmed far more often that hearsay testimony. By applying the rule of The Scientist, we thus form an expectation that in the future, hearing direct eye witness testimony will generally be more reliable than hearing hearsay testimony. (This notion of inductive reasoning is closely related to the standard Hume notion of causation of "constant conjunction".)
3) If after covering both these sections the scale is still at 50, I argue that it is just as reasonable to believe in God as not to believe.
It is flagrantly ridiculous that you think it's ok to claim and hold a belief X when you also believe that the odds of X being true are 50 50. That's flatly irrational. That's not ok. The only rational option is to apportion your beliefs according to the evidence and proper reasoning. It's irrational to withhold belief when you have sufficient justification at hand for the belief. It's irrational to grant belief when you lack sufficient justification at hand for the belief.
Having evidence which indicates 50 50 odds is equivalent to having no evidence at all, and a complete lack of evidence is not sufficient justification for any belief whatsoever.
We're all irrational on some topics, but we should strive towards fixing our irrationality when it has been identified. If you persist in holding that it's ok to hold unjustified beliefs, then I see no point to any further communication. (Of course, one's starting foundational beliefs are exempt. See my first post regarding the "regress problem".)
This should not be a controversial topic. I am amazed that you do not understand such a simple concept or that you do not already hold that position.
You invoked Pascal's Wager again. (Also, come on. Pascal's Wager is one of the worst arguments in the book. Can't you do any better? Like providing actual specific evidence?)
For the way I live my life to make sense, I do have to believe that the likelihood of truth of Christianity is very small indeed, far smaller than 50 50 odds. This a subtle point that is often lost on atheists.
However, that's the extent to which you're right.
First, because the generic God has significant implications
Many people, if facing the 50% probability that God exists will choose to live under the paradigm that He does and they are justified in doing so (and so is the atheist/agnostic in not doing so and theists should not claim otherwise).
You are flatly wrong in your intended meaning. The list of required and prohibited actions of the various contemporary popular religions are wildly contradictory. Just knowing that one of the contemporary popular religions has it right implies absolutely nothing about how I should live my life - apart from the need to do further research to figure out which religion got it right. Suppose that further research proves inconclusive. If so, that means the simple fact of this god's existence has absolutely no further significance on my life. It's a mere curiosity.
Your myopic view of Christianity is unable to acknowledge that there are other religions, and that I believe that being a Christian is just as ridiculous as worshipping Thor (to a first degree of approximation).
The inability to even acknowledge the realities of other religious dogmas is another failing of Pascal's Wager.
For example, one religion might say that god demands I sacrifice a goat every week, and another religion might say that god will punish anyone who sacrifices a goat. What do I do? Thankfully, in practice my estimation of the existence of any such god is exceedingly small, and I don't have to worry about such shenanigans.
2) If he has gone through the trouble of creating everything and us, He probably has certain expectations and we need to be mindful how we live our lives.
How do you know that? Why do you believe that's likely to be true? This seems to be directly pulled out of your anus.
Even if I grant the existence of a god that created spacetime (whatever that means), the available evidence strongly supported unguided materialistic evolution for humans, which means that we're just the laws of physics playing out and we're probably just a mere accident on the god's plans. If the god actually cared about us specially, there's no reason to create a trillion trillion stars and 14~ billion years of time just for us. I find it hard to fathom the massive arrogance and self-importance that it takes for you to think that you're so special that a god must care about you. Even if there is a god, it's very likely that humans are just a random fluke of physics that is irrelevant in the grand scheme of the god.
The same mistake is clearly visible here:
Compare religions - how do they address reasonable issues like suffering and evil
Fallacious appeal to consequences. The universe does not care if you think it sucks. Deal with reality as it is, not as you want it to be. Only be recognizing reality for what it is can you make effective plans to change the world for the better.
I have no reason to believe that if a god exists, it's described by one of the contemporary popular religions. I have no reason to believe that if a god exists, it has any interest in human affairs. I have no reason to believe that if a god exists, it regularly interferes in our spacetime. Each one of these steps radically lowers the proper estimation of the truth of the proposition. For each step, you need a requisite comparable amount of evidence to support the additional conclusion. That's another failing of Pascal's Wager.
You've also frequently invoked the Kalam cosmological argument. This argument and your tactics in general seem to be a script taken from William Lane Craig. The standard takedown:
Professional cosmologists say that we do not have compelling evidence that our space-time had a beginning in time. Professional cosmologists say that it's perfectly plausible that time extends infinitely far into the past, and it's perfectly plausible that time has a closed-loop so that if you wait long enough, you'll loop around to the beginning and arrive at where you started. I adopt the standard Hume understanding of causation of "constant conjunction", and so I do not understand what "cause" means outside of time. Ignoring that difficulty, I can be like a parrot and say that the first moment of time might have been uncaused, and that the first moment of time might have been caused by a non-intelligent thing, or anything that's not a god.
All of these alternatives are plausible. I have no evidence to favor any of the alternatives. Thus, to a first degree of approximation, as a good Bayesian, I have to give equal odds to all of the alternatives, which means that my estimation of the existence of a first-cause god of any kind is drastically less than 50 50 odds. On this primitive analysis alone, it's more like 1/5 aka 20% estimation aka 20 to 80 odds.
There are trillion trillion stars, and I can name a god hypotheses where the god cares about aliens on a planet around that star. Before examining any particular evidence, that's a trillion trillion god hypotheses that are just as likely to be true as any god hypothesis where humans are special. That meas odds of 1 to a trillion trillion against a god that's interested in human affairs. Simple hypothetical evidence could easily overcome this hurdle, and I again invite you to present evidence. I've been waiting quite a while for that. Please stop wasting my time.
A working definition of the supernatural is not optional; it is what this conversation is about. I don't have any particular attachment to the word itself; but the concept is indispensable to a meaningful conversation. Like debating global warming while rejecting any convention for measuring temperature.
Neither is methodological naturalism (MN) optional to the discussion. You seem to think it is a term invented by atheists to rule out God by definition. In reality, it is a term describing what science can and cannot do. And, the reason you don't see this is because of your flawed definition of the supernatural (or the lack of one).
You think that by talking about the supernatural and MN and other stuff I am intentionally or unintentionally stalling from coming up with a specific God hypothesis that you can then proceed to debunk. This, even though I have repeatedly demonstrated that I don't need to do this to have a case. The reason you think this way is because you see God as an independent concept, the non-existence of which carries no major implications. And this again stems from flawed definitions.
You bring up the rules of evidence that apply to God speaking in your head but I haven't started talking about that yet. I am still dealing with God and His connection to nature.
I find it equally ridiculous that you don't think it's rational to believe in God in a 50/50 situation. If there's a 50/50 chance of rain do you take an umbrella?
But even this doesn't matter very much. If we found one thousand people who had never thought about the concept of a God and explained to them that, at this point in our scientific advancement, it's about 50/50 that the universe either developed naturally or was engineered by an intelligent being, a good number of them would start taking the God possibility seriously. And, if you got up and gave them a two hour lecture on why it is irrational to believe in God in a 50/50 situation, chances are most of them will just ignore you and believe in God anyway.
The real problem is that atheist/agnostics/skeptics/many scientists etc. paint a picture of reality that's very different than this 50/50 scenario, when in fact, they have no rational/scientific grounds for doing so. And this is robbing people of the ability to make informed decisions, it is skewing how they evaluate all other subsequent evidence, it is detrimental to society as a whole and therefore demands a response. Even if you're right regarding the correct reaction one should have to a 50/50 ratio, that's still no excuse to lie to people. That's why the debate must be centered here. Debating anything else is entertainment (something I don't have time for, so please find someone else to do it with). Debating this is a necessity. (Even if you don't think this applies to you it, it does apply because it is the direction your arguments are tending)
You brought up the Christian God yet again after I spent more than half my last post on seven solid reasons why this isn't a discussion we're going to be having. So maybe this will register a little better: the next time you bring up the Christian God, I'm done.
Otherwise, if you still want to continue, I have no particular attachment to debate.org per se. But I do want to do this at a public location that's neutral and structured: controlled by an impartial third party, has time/space/round limitations even if looser than here, each person gets equal time, people can't gang up on you, etc. Don't know of any other place like that but if you find one, great. I will need 1-2 months before the next round but I don't mind going first next time so you get the last word. But really, the problem we're having here is not lack of time/space but that we're all over the place instead of picking one topic and sticking with it.
Your counter to Pascal's Wager only works when the wager is used in connection with a specific creed.
Let's consider for a second a situation where it is 100% certain that the universe was created but we knew absolutely nothing more beyond that. This is not the same type of situation like when someone claims, for example, that unicorn Bob exists. That would be a fact that we would have no idea what to do with without further info. "
100% certainty that the universe was created means, as already mentioned, that an extremely powerful being exists that could potentially wipe us out of existence at will. It also means that some serious thought and effort was put into making us. Since, if someone was just in the mood to create an universe, they could have simply created a few rocks floating around in space instead. Based on this information alone, some people might choose to start looking to connect with this God, to make requests, to live their lives mindful that someone could be watching etc. And, a 50% chance, instead of 100% is still a good chance."
For this to be turned into a wager you could use your wager-rebuttal against, someone would have to make specific claims about what this God expects besides what can be directly known from the mere fact that the universe was created.
You bring up the trillion God hypothesis that are equally likely to be true but not sure why a God could only care about one set of aliens at a time. And, my generic hypothesis includes all of these.
I don't know where you're getting that I'm making WLK's arguments in any way. He's usually my go to example for what arguments not to make against atheists."
As far as I can tell, there is a lot of miscommunication and, the only way I know how to correct this is to pick the most foundational topics, take them one at a time and develop something that we can build on. The most crucial in my opinion is defining the supernatural followed closely by a discussion of Methodological Naturalism. If I get to make the opening statement next time that's what I intend to focus on.
I'm on a business trip and low on sleep so I probably won't get much more done than this before my time runs out so let me just end with some MN homework for you for next time.
I made a distinction for you that you just ignored so let me make it again. Everything you are saying about MN is true in regards to supernatural events happening now. If an angel appears, if a healing takes place, if a person is a psychic; any imaginable supernatural event that happened would be subject to science.
What about an event that happened far in the past?
Let's say the first living cells were made by an angel and then evolution took over from there?
How would you study that? If you came up with that as a hypothesis what predictions would you make that you could then test out?
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