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“A Different Way of Knowing”: The Uses of Irrationality… and its Limitations

Brain_with_symbolsThere’s a trope I’ve noticed in debates about atheism, about skepticism, about science. And the trope goes something like this:

“Logic and reason isn’t everything. Not everything in this world is rational. Not everything that we know in the world is known through logic and reason. Sometimes we have to use our intuition, and listen to our hearts. There are different ways of knowing than just reason and evidence.”

The thing is?

I actually think there’s a lot of truth to this.

And I still think it’s a terrible argument to make against atheism, skepticism, and/or science.

Let me explain.

Love_heartssvgThere are absolutely areas of life in which logic and reason don’t apply. Or don’t predominate, anyway. Love, of course, is a classic example. The classic example, probably. Nobody decides who to fall in love with by making a cool appraisal of the pros and cons. Nobody decides who to fall in love with, period. It’s an emotional, irrational, impulsive, intuitive, largely unconscious act.

Personally, I think a lot of people would benefit from a little more rational, evidence- based thinking in their love lives. It might stop them from making the same damn dumb mistakes over and over again, for one thing. But ultimately, decisions about love are made with the heart, not the head. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

John_henry_fuseli__the_nightmareOr take art. The part of us that loves music, images, stories… it’s not a logical part. Not entirely, anyway. A huge amount of it is personal, emotional, visceral. And it should be. Scientists and art critics and philosophers can analyze why different people like different things in art, and they’ll come up with useful observations… but the actual experience of art isn’t mostly analytical.

Sure, there are some commonly-accepted criteria that can be applied to art. Plus, the degree to which we appreciate art emotionally or rationally can depend on the art… as well as on the appreciator. And certainly our appreciation of art can be increased by a better understanding of its history or structure. But ultimately, art either moves you or it doesn’t. And when it does, the experience of being moved is not a rational process. It’s subjective.

And most artists will tell you that an essential part of the creative process is getting the rational part of their brain to shut up for a while. While the editing or modifying process often involves a critical, rational eye, the actual creation part of art comes largely from a non-verbal, non-linear, non-rational place. The experience of art is not primarily a rational one… for artist or for audience.

RaspberriesI can think of oodles more examples. Humor. Sexual desire. Friendship. Sentiment and nostalgia. Tastes in food. I think you get my drift, though. Many of the most central, most profound experiences of human life are things we experience emotionally, intuitively, irrationally.

But have you noticed a pattern to these examples?

They’re all matters of opinion. They’re all matters of subjective experience.

None of them is concerned with trying to understand what is true. Not just what is true for us, personally, but what is true in the external world. The world we all share, as opposed to the ones in our own heads and hearts.

And these questions — the questions of what is true in the external world — are where logic and evidence leap to the forefront.

ThinkingThis is why. We know — as well as we know anything — that the human mind can be fooled. It is wired, for very good evolutionary reasons, with some interesting distortions of reality. Among other things, it’s wired to see what it expects to see; it’s wired to see patterns even when none exist; it’s wired to see intention even when none exists.

And intuition, especially, is a deeply imperfect form of perception and understanding. Yes, it can often be a powerful tool for making leaps and seeing possibilities we couldn’t even have imagined before. But it can also be a powerful tool for showing us exactly what we expect to see, and telling us exactly what we want to hear — regardless of whether what we expect or want are actually there to be seen and heard.

Radiohead_ok_computerNow, for subjective questions, these imperfections aren’t particularly important. If you think you’re in love, then you are in love. If you think you like Radiohead, then you do like Radiohead. If you think broccoli tastes like fermented essence of evil, then it does. To you, anyway. With subjective questions like these, there’s not really a difference between “what you think is true” and “what really is true.” Or if there is, it’s not a crucial one.

But when we’re trying to figure out what’s true in the real world — not in the subjective world of our own feelings and experiences, but in the external world — there is very often a difference between what we think is true and what is true. An important, measurable difference.

And if we want to understand what’s true in the real world, we need to acknowledge, recognize, and correct for that difference. When we don’t, it’s disastrous. Think of all the people in history who “intuitively” knew that black people were mentally inferior to white people; who “intuitively” knew that mental illness was caused by demonic possession; etc., etc., etc. The human race’s track record of trying to answer non- matter- of- opinion questions about what is and is not true in the external world by “listening to our hearts” is a pretty abysmal one.

So if we’re trying to understand the external world, we need to be very, very careful to screen out bias and preconception as much as humanly possible. And the best way we have to do that is with logic, reason, and the rigorously careful gathering, examination, and analysis of the evidence.

Man_using_microscopeIn other words — the scientific method.

Which — with its double-blinding, careful control groups (including placebo controls when appropriate), transparent methodology, replicability, falsifiability, peer review, etc. etc. — has specifically developed over the decades and centuries to do one thing: eliminate bias, preconception, and human error, as much as is humanly possible, in order to get the closest approximation of the truth that we can.

It’s true that the history of science is full of stories of scientists coming up with important insights and breakthroughs in irrational ways: through dreams, sudden revelations, etc. Yes, irrational inspiration can be an important part of the scientific process. But it’s an important first part. After all, the history of science is also full of scientists coming up with ideas through irrational inspiration that then turned out to be full of beans. (Nikola Tesla comes to mind.) You just don’t read about them as much.

Inspiration gives scientists ideas, points them in new directions. But they then need to test those ideas and directions. And they don’t do that intuitively. They do it using the scientific method: rationally, logically, and rigorously.

So what does all this have to do with atheism?

Here’s what. The question of whether God does or does not exist is not a question of opinion. It is not a question of subjective experience. It is not a question that can be answered, “Well, maybe that’s not true for you, but it’s true for me.”

Creation_of_adamA belief in God is a hypothesis about the world. The real, external world. It is a hypothesis proposing an explanation for why things are the way they are: why the natural world is the way it is, why human nature is the way it is, how life came to be, how the universe came to be, how cause and effect works in the physical world. (Or to be more precise: it’s thousands upon thousands of hypotheses. What with all the different and conflicting religions.)

KatrinaIt can be a broad hypothesis, like, “The universe was created by an intelligent, intentional creator,” or, “Human beings have a non-corporeal soul that is connected to, but not dependent on, the physical brain and body.” Or it can be as specific as, “If enough people pray, God will cure my daughter’s cancer,” or, “There was a devastating hurricane in New Orleans because the city tolerates homosexuality.” But except in the cases of the most abstract concepts of God — deities so far removed from the real world that they scarcely deserve the name “deity” — a religious belief is a hypothesis about the workings of the real, external, non-subjective world that we all live in.

And therefore, it is not appropriate to use irrational, emotional, intuitive ways of knowing to try to evaluate whether the God hypothesis is accurate, or plausible, or the best explanation for the current evidence.

You can find out whether you’re really in love by listening to your heart. You can’t find out how to predict tornados, or how HIV is transmitted, or whether eating beef increases the risk of getting colon cancer, by listening to your heart. And the God hypothesis is not in the first category. It’s in the second.

Don’t believe me? Don’t believe that the rational scientific method is a demonstrably better way to understand the real world than the intuitive religious method? Let’s look at the results.

M51galaxy_hubblespacetelescopeThe rational, scientific may of knowing the world? Big success. Wildly positive results. The scientific method has increased our understanding of the real world, and our ability to affect and predict it, to a truly astonishing degree. We can send telescopes to other planets, take detailed pictures of those planets, and send them back to our own. We can see the structures of cells. We can predict weather patterns both large and small: not perfectly, of course, but with a greater degree of accuracy than at any time in human history. We understand the natural process by which life on the planet developed. We can identify, prevent, and treat diseases that were utterly mysterious even a hundred years ago. And our understanding even of how our own brains and minds work is increasing every day. Etc., etc., etc.

Yes, of course there are unanswered questions and ongoing debates on the frontiers of science. No scientist would argue otherwise. But there are basic fundamental realities about the world that we now know — as well as we can possibly know anything — that we didn’t know, say, five hundred years ago, or even a hundred. Science doesn’t tell us the absolute truth about reality… but it gives us a better and better approximation of it all the time.

Now. The intuitive, religious way of knowing the world? How has that worked out? How has that increased our information and understanding of the real, external world?

Not so much.

ArgueWhat we have now is pretty much what we’ve had for thousands of years of human history. We have different people squabbling, with greater or lesser degrees of hostility, over which religious intuition is the right one. And none of them are able to support their claim with anything other than the circular, self-defining “evidence” of their own religious texts and authorities… and, of course, their own intuitions. We are not moving towards general agreement and consensus on certain basic issues, the way science is. When it comes to religious beliefs, we are every bit as divided now as we have ever been in all of human history.

You’d think that, after thousands of years of religions intuitively gathering knowledge about the world, we’d have… well, more knowledge. Better techniques for praying; more accurate prophecies; something. At the very least, you’d think we’d have come up with a method for determining which religious claims are more likely to be correct. We don’t. All we have is a different set of opinions than we used to, modified to suit the culture or sub-culture that holds them.

Blake_ancient_of_daysAnd here’s the thing. That whole trope about how religious beliefs are completely beyond evidence or reason? I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, if you’re talking about the extremely abstract, “God is love” God of much modern liberal theology, the one that’s been abstracted so far out of the real world that it barely deserves the name “God”… then sure. But if you’re talking about a God who acts on the physical world in any way whatsoever, then that is a hypothesis that is absolutely not beyond evidence or reason. Sure, we might not be able to see God directly; but we can’t see quarks directly either, and we know they exist… because we can see and document their effects in the physical world. If God acts on the physical world, we should be able to see and document that effect.

And we can’t.

This is the point Ingrid keeps making. If there really were an all- or nearly- all- powerful God who intervened in the world, it would not be subtle. We’d know about it. We would see laws of nature visibly violated on a fairly regular basis; we would see prayers visibly answered; we would see followers of one religion doing visibly better than followers of every other religion.

And we don’t.

Letting_go_of_godAs Julia Sweeney said so succinctly in her performance piece Letting Go of God, “The world behaves exactly as you would expect it to, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.”

The “God’s existence or non-existence is a question beyond evidence or reason” trope is really just another way of saying, “I believe in God, even though there’s no good evidence for it.” And the increasing abstraction of God into what is basically an intellectual concept with no discernible effect on the real world — or the belief in a God who really is all-powerful and interventionist but who, for no apparent reason, goes to great pains to conceal his power and interventions… well, those are really just ways of hanging onto a belief in God even though the concept has become untenable.

The reality is that we do not see the effects of God on the physical world, in any way that we can recognize and document and agree on. And the best explanation for that is not that God is unknowable, or abstract, or in hiding. The best explanation for that is that God does not exist.

*****

LightningI have great respect for irrational intuition. I’ve made some of the most important decisions of my life on a sudden, strong impulse: the rushing together of all my instincts into one clear, quiet voice telling me what my next move should be. And most of the time, those decisions have been right.

And the world, in my opinion, would be a sad, dull place without irrationality. I have tremendous value for the sides of life that are fundamentally irrational. Love and art, absurdity and sentiment, passion and humor: all of these make life worth living. I would hate to live in a world where nobody hung on to the stuffed animal they had when they were a kid; where nobody drove for two hours to take a midnight hike in the woods, just because it seemed like fun; where nobody ever dressed up as a traffic cone and ran into the street chasing cars. I don’t want to live on Vulcan.

But I don’t want to live in the Middle Ages, either.

Reliquary_st_louis_toulouse_mnma_clI don’t want to live in a world where we think we can cure diseases by touching the relics of dead saints; where we think our personalities and actions are shaped by celestial battles between angels and demons; where we think women are naturally wicked because Eve caused original sin… just because it seems to make intuitive sense and is what everyone else believes.

And I don’t want to live in a world where this intuitive “knowing” is generally accepted as a perfectly good way to answer questions about what is and is not true in the real world.

I care about reality. I think reality is interesting — way more interesting than anything we could make up. I want to understand it, as best I can with my puny Earthling brain. I want to live in a world where we have a good, road-tested, ever-improving method for figuring out what is or is not true about reality.

Earth_eastern_hemisphereAnd you know what? We do live in that world. Or we could. We have that method. I want us to use it. Sure, I want us to use our emotional, irrational intuition as well… but I want us to use it for those parts of life where it’s appropriate. And that most emphatically does not include the attempt to figure out what is or is not literally, factually true in the real world.

Which includes the question of whether God does or does not exist.

Some of the ideas in this piece were inspired by — not to say stolen outright from — Ebonmuse’s piece on Daylight Atheism, The View From the Ground. Thanks, dude.

Comments

  1. says

    Greta,
    Your observations are brilliant as usual, but I’m logically tongue-tied. This is a great post I overwhelmingly agree with, save a few important points which I cite responsibly but achronologically below, and my complaint is that I feel your thesis here is not amenable to supportable logic or empiricism.
    Noting correctly that if God, spirits, et al. exist they do so in the ‘real world,’ you write, “You can find out whether you’re really in love by listening to your heart. You can’t find out how to predict tornados, or how HIV is transmitted, or whether eating beef increases the risk of getting colon cancer, by listening to your heart…the rational scientific method is a demonstrably better way to understand the real world than the intuitive religious method…the God hypothesis is not in the first category. It’s in the second… Therefore, it is not appropriate to use irrational, emotional, intuitive ways of knowing to try to evaluate whether the God hypothesis is accurate, or plausible, or the best explanation…”
    I strongly disagree on several points and say this is demonstrable opinion, not fact.
    To begin with, this argument admittedly contains the empirically unsupportable presupposition that the scientific method and empirical approaches are the best methodologies for apprehending God’s existence, observable by its semantics (the God ‘hypothesis’).
    I note that you do offer an explanation, and I understand the argument to be made on behalf of the point you correctly make, that if God exists, God is part of the real world. However, as you previously stated in this same essay, there are areas in life in which empirical apprehension is not the best or only means of confirmation, such as love. The valid counter-opinion exists that the God hypothesis might be one such area in which empirical apprehension is not the best or only means of confirmation, and if that is true in actuality, then intuitive ways of evaluating the ‘hypothesis’ might just be the better ways after all. At any rate, we have no observable data from which to reach a supportable conclusion in either case, making secondary pronouncements, well…secondary.
    Second, you have no empirical reason to presuppose as you do that, “…the God hypothesis is not in the first category” (other than your results which I promise to address). Again, your statement here that I disagree with is based on your previous statement I agree with, that if there is a God, spirit world, et al. these entities would exist in actuality and would thus be empirically apprehensible, ie, part of the ‘real world’ (I hate that phrase).
    But there is a fundamental chasm between the ‘real world’ of space-time universality we live in, which we CAN and DO apprehend empirically, versus any potential ‘real world’ that might exist, which if it did would in fact seem to exist objectively and might be amenable to empirical apprehension.
    And that chasm is this: Making pronouncements on the former is amenable to supportable logic, while making pronouncements on the latter is not.
    Thus, in stating as you do that, “…the God hypothesis is not in the first category,” you presuppose something that is not amenable to supportable logic or empiricism, making your argument itself illogical.
    Lastly, I dug deeply into your results, and they don’t affect my previous argument although I take issue with some of your conclusions there as well. The results you list pit the accomplishments of science against the “…intuitive, religious way of knowing the world,” and much of what’s contained in your results judges the efficacy or actuality of religion on YOUR idea of what God ought to do if God in fact existed, ie, “We would see laws of nature visibly violated on a fairly regular basis; we would see prayers visibly answered; we would see followers of one religion doing visibly better than followers of every other religion.”
    How can you claim to know with certainty the actions of a being who’s very existence you are still attempting to apprehend?
    Isn’t that what the ID’ers do?

  2. says

    Fantastic post, one that I want to recommend to all my religious friends – or at least I would, if the comment above didn’t show how easily religious people confuse their way out of such difficulties.
    When you say that God is a hypothesis about the world, I think you are too generous. If God were really a hypothesis amenable to evidence, there would no longer be any believers. I don’t think that God was ever a “hypothesis” in the sense of being something which allowed you to more concisely express the evidence you already have, but in any case, as a result of the onslaught of negative evidence, the idea has now been pushed altogether beyond the reach of any evidence. Today the word describes not so much a real belief about the world in any meaningful sense so much as a particularly intricate state of confusion, as illustrated above.
    However, I guess the point is that religious people often speak as though their beliefs were beliefs about the world, and so it would be nice if they would concede that we should therefore apply the standards of reason and evidence to what they say.

  3. says

    @ Paul,
    Good to meet you. Since we apparently agree (going on what I could actually glean from your comment) I’ll disregard your baseless charge of confusion, but as always I’m open to direct response.

  4. says

    Nice post.
    Christians want their God both ways: as a being who is active in the world (and whose activity should therefore be as obvious to non-Christians as it is to Christians, who see him everywhere), and as a being that cannot be apprehended by ordinary human methods of apprehension. Pf course, if the latter were true, then there would be no way to discover the former.
    Ah, yes, I nearly forgot – they can have it both ways because God, who cannot be apprehended via ordinary human means, has graciously revealed himself to us through the Torah, I mean the New Testament, I mean the Koran, I mean the Book of Mormon…. And through Moses, I mean Elijah, I mean Jesus, I mean Mohamed, I mean Joseph Smith….
    If any deity is actively working in the world, people should be able to discover evidence of that being’s activity. To date, that has not happened, nor does it appear likely to happen any time soon.

  5. says

    CL, there’s a part of me that wants to debate you. But in fact, your comment supports my argument so well that I almost don’t feel like there’s any point. All you’ve done is re-assert the claim that non- empirical, non- rational “ways of knowing” might be the best way of perceiving God… without actually making any arguments as to why this might be so.
    My claim — that when it comes to perceiving the real, external, non-subjective world, intuition is not the best tool we have, and that God falls into this category — is a claim that I’ve backed up with extensive arguments.
    I’ve pointed out that the areas of life in which intuitive “knowing” is demonstrably useful are areas of subjective opinion… a category into which the existence of God most emphatically does not fall.
    I’ve pointed out that, when it comes to understanding the real, non-subjective world, we *know,* as well as we know anything, that intuition is deeply flawed and deeply subject to bias and preconception.
    I’ve pointed to the track record of the rational scientific method as a powerful tool for screening out a great deal of that bias and preconception.
    I’ve pointed out that religious “intuition” has not made even the slightest bit of progress in helping us come to a general consensus in understanding the world.
    And I’ve pointed out that, if God really existed and had an effect on our world, we should be able to see that effect.
    And as far as I can tell — it’s hard to say, as your comment was extremely confusing — all you’re doing is re-asserting your assertion. All you’re saying, over and over again, is that God’s existence might not be amenable to logic or empirical evidence… without giving one argument as to why that should be. You haven’t given one argument as to why God, apart from every single other question about what is or is not true in the real, non-subjective world, should be better understood by intuition instead of reason and evidence. I’ve given a step- by- step argument… and all you’re saying is, “No, it isn’t.”
    Finally: I am not, in fact, judging the efficacy or actuality of religion based on my idea of what God ought to do. I am judging the efficacy and actuality of religion based on what its *believers* say that God does. Religious belief, overwhelmingly, proposes some sort of interventionist God who has some sort of effect on the world and our lives. (And when it doesn’t, as in the case of deism, then it’s kind of a moot point. Yes, theoretically there could be a God who exists but has absolutely no effect on the world… but so what? How would we know, and why would we care?)
    I’m not arguing against religious belief as I think it should be. I’m arguing against religious belief as it exists in our world.

  6. David Harmon says

    Short version: The only things in our world that act according to irrationality are… us. ;-)

  7. says

    @ Greta,
    Sorry for the wordiness; I’ll try to be more concise.
    Your claim is that empiricism is the best means of finding God. My claim is that you cannot support this claim with empiricism or logic. It’s impossible. Since no one can say for certain whether God exists, no one can say for certain what the best means of apprehending God might be. It’s clear logic. That was the whole reason for my closing question: “How can you claim to know with certainty the best method of apprehending a being who’s very existence you are questioning?
    Does this really not make sense to anyone here?

  8. says

    No, it makes sense, CL. I just think it’s completely wrong.
    You don’t need absolute 100% certainty about a proposition to be able make a rational, evidence-based assessment as to whether that proposition is likely, or supported by evidence, or even plausible. The classic example of this is Bertrand Russell’s hypothetical teapot. We can’t disprove with absolute certainty the assertion that there’s a small china teapot orbiting the sun; but we can nevertheless feel completely comfortable dismissing it as a hypothesis in the absence of any evidence to support it.
    The fact that we can’t be 100% sure of any idea doesn’t mean that all ideas are equally likely or unlikely. And if the only argument you can make for your hypothesis is “You can’t prove with 100% certainty that it isn’t true,” then that is a very weak hypothesis indeed.
    I’ve written about this more extensively in my piece, “The 100% Solution: On Uncertainty, And Why It Doesn’t Matter So Much.”
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/01/the-100-solutio.html
    I very strongly suggest that you read it before continuing this argument.
    And the assumption behind your closing question is completely mistaken. Scientists figure out ways to determine the existence or non-existence of entities whose existence they’re questioning ALL THE TIME. Electrons, quarks, black holes, stars with planets other than the Sun… the list goes on. These are all entities that we once didn’t know existed — and we figured out ways to figure out if they existed or not.
    Again, you’re simply reiterating the very assertion that you’re trying to prove: namely, that God is a special case. And you’re trying to use one of the weakest things about the God hypothesis — namely, the lack of any good evidence or logic supporting it — as an argument for why it should be a special case.
    You’re trying to make unknowability a strength instead of a weakness. But I say again: If the God hypothesis were true, it wouldn’t be ineffable. It’d be knowable. It’d be bloody obvious. The only reason to think the God hypothesis is so special and unknowable is the fact that we DON’T have any evidence to support it. If there were any other hypothesis regarding the real, non-subjective world for which there were such a dearth of evidence and logic supporting it, we would have abandoned it long ago.

  9. says

    @CL
    I’m glad you’re open to direct response, but I’m afraid I’m not always up for getting into another discussion with a religious person about their beliefs. I find the most productive discussions of religion are usually among atheists, since we can see it for what it is.

  10. says

    In response to what you wrote:
    “I mean, if you’re talking about the extremely abstract, “God is love” God of much modern liberal theology, the one that’s been abstracted so far out of the real world that it barely deserves the name “God”… then sure. But if you’re talking about a God who acts on the physical world in any way whatsoever, then that is a hypothesis that is absolutely not beyond evidence or reason.”
    [Sorry for the lack of HTML knowledge - need to get off my lazy ass and learn it.]
    I have been telling people this very thing for a while now. When close-minded people (who I am forced to be amicable with, as I am related) ask me if I believe in god (i.e. if I’m an Atheist), I simply must ask them to qualify their question. Depending on how they define “god”, my answers range from “No, I don’t believe he exists” to “I don’t know.”
    And “I don’t know” is a most excellent answer! I don’t know why many Christians (among others) stigmatize the lack of knowledge. I suppose they prefer a solid belief in anything (including fantasy) rather than an uncomfortable lack of omniscience. Hail the “I don’t know”!

  11. says

    What is “right” for me may be “wrong” for everyone else, and that fact should be okay with me.
    As I see thinks (aren’t these spectacles wonderful?), most things are able to be explained IF we have sufficient information or computing capability.
    Research isn’t only about finding the answers, but by finding information. As stated by Miyamoto Musashi:
    “By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist.”
    I look at this a little odd perhaps. I think he was saying that by knowing answers (cause of), we can now what is not an answer (the cause of) any particular thing/action. Similarly, if we know A is not the answer, we can move on to search for THE answer. At least we know A isn’t it…
    We should all be comfortable with “I don’t know” because I doubt there is anyone who “knows” it all…

  12. says

    Thanks, Greta! I’m always flattered when I get cited. :)
    cl: I’m not going to reiterate Greta’s perfectly sound argument, but I will say this: There’s only one kind of god that could accurately be apprehended by subjective opinion: namely, a god that exists in our minds and nowhere else. As Greta’s post showed, the things that are best apprehended subjectively are things that *are* inherently subjective. Love, music, art, beauty, and so on. They are real to the person who perceives them, but not necessarily to anyone else. I may find some piece of art beautiful while someone else finds it hideous, and there’s no fact of the matter about which of us is right.
    Are you saying God is like this – that his nature and character are defined by what we think about them? If I believe in a loving god and someone else believes in a wrathful god, we can’t both be right. Does God’s nature change moment to moment based on what people think it is? That’s one wildly chameleonic deity, if so.
    Or are you saying that *some* people’s subjective perceptions of God are correct and other people’s perceptions are incorrect? If so, then we just return to the original point: Who’s right and how do you know? The only way we could even theoretically decide this question is by appealing to objective evidence that anyone can examine for themselves. In other words, by following the scientific method and testing our hypothesis against the facts of the external world.

  13. says

    @ Paul,
    Okay, either way…perhaps you think I’ll get all riled up, consign you to hell and start quoting scriptures…not the case. I’m here to learn, friend. And if I’m unsure whether I’m religious or not, by what miracle of rationalism can you be sure? Save your assumptions for some place they might have benefit, because in legitimate intellectual conversation assumptions are disastrous.
    @ Greta,
    I still think you’re misunderstanding me, or possibly that I’m misunderstanding you, or even more likely, that I’m misunderstanding myself. So I’ll read the post you suggest and come back tomorrow or the next day.
    @ Ebonmuse,
    I think we are in near-100% agreement. For example, you say:
    “the things that are best apprehended subjectively are things that are inherently subjective…” I agree 100%
    Then you say:
    “If I believe in a loving god and someone else believes in a wrathful god, we can’t both be right…” I agree, to a point, but I don’t think wrath and love must necessarily exclude one another in the same being. For example, God might be both loving and wrathful. On the other hand, if you say God exists and I say God doesn’t exist, then, providing we begin with a common definition of God only one of us can be right, far as I can see. So I think your argument here is essentially that God is not a contingent being; if that’s the case, again I agree 100%.
    You ask:
    “Does God’s nature change moment to moment based on what people think it is?” Well, I see no reason why God’s nature couldn’t change from minute to minute, but I think God’s propensity to change God’s nature depends not one scintilla on what humanity thinks. So I agree with you 100% again, because my opinion is that if God exists, God is not a contingent being, just like Greta said.
    Then you ask:
    “Or are you saying that some people’s subjective perceptions of God are correct and other people’s perceptions are incorrect?” I say that if God exists, then it is very likely that at least some human perceptions of God are incorrect.
    And you follow:
    “If so, then we just return to the original point: Who’s right and how do you know?” And again, I agree 100%.
    So let me think about your comment a bit more to find out why you seem to disagree with me (perhaps you don’t), and I’ll return.

  14. says

    Actually, cl, while I don’t presume to speak for Paul, I think *you* are very likely making assumptions that aren’t warranted. Lots of atheists get tired of debating believers, and it’s not only because of believers getting riled up, consigning people to hell, or quoting scripture. Debates even with very moderate religious believers can be extremely frustrating.
    As I said in my “Is Religious Faith Irrational?” post, believers often enter into debates with atheists full of logic and counter-arguments, and almost inevitably end the debates by saying things like, “Well, that’s just how I feel,” or “I feel it in my heart, and that’s enough for me.” For that reason and many more, a lot of atheists just don’t bother.
    And considering that you’ve been defending religion in almost every single comment you’ve written in this blog — including comments on posts that had nothing to do with the subject — I don’t think the assumption that you’re a believer was unwarranted. It may not be correct, but it’s hardly unreasonable.

  15. says

    Sorry Greta, if you think I’m being rude.
    Regards your defense of Paul, I agree with all your points and don’t usually get into arguments with religious folk myself, for those same reasons. I took light issue with Paul first for calling me confused without support, as an aside at that, then assuming me religious. I feel those are bona fide sentiments. If you can pinpoint or summarize the assumption you feel I made, I may be able to comment further.
    If you think I’m defending religion in “almost every single comment,” I disagree, and think that’s funny because the religious bloggers have me pegged as an atheist or even a ‘heathen.’ Besides, can arguing that micro and macroevolution are legitimate terms biologists actually use be reasonably construed as defending religion? Can arguing that video simulations cannot authentically represent the geno / phenotype distinction be reasonably construed as defending religion? Can arguing the presumptuousness of the phrase, “We only live once” be reasonably construed as defending religion? If so, which religion am I defending?
    I think the former two defend proper understanding of evolution, and the latter proper understanding of agnosticism. I don’t know for sure if we only live once, so I don’t use that phrase. And when somebody says it to me, I say, “How do you know?” The smart ones usually fall silent. :)
    At any rate, let’s leave all that alone if we can. I took a look at the supporting post you suggested, and quickly found I agree. In fact, I was going to stop after the first two paragraphs, I knew we agreed so much. But to eliminate any chance of error, I read the whole post carefully, and nonetheless discovered that I agree wholeheartedly with literally every single point you made.
    Here’s a quick summary:
    Paraphrasing the post-modern modern apologist, you write, “Therefore, religious faith is as valid as any secular kind. Believing in God, in angels, in reincarnation, in 72 virgins awaiting us when we die, in Jesus dying to save our souls, is every bit as valid as believing that the earth goes around the sun.” I would never say that in a million years.
    Later you cite your thesis: “..the fact that we can’t be 100% sure of any idea doesn’t mean that all ideas are equally likely or unlikely.” I agree, 100%.
    You say, “Wanting certainty is understandable. We all want it, and try to create it, and feel betrayed when we don’t get it. But I think it’s something of a childish desire.” Again, I agree 100%, and I would add that in my opinion, theists and atheists are FAR more prone to this logical error than agnostics, because they get an opinion in their head one way or the other and then become committed to it. Agnosticism says “I don’t know,” quite literally.
    Your closing comment knocked my socks off I agreed so much: “To assume that, because we can never be absolutely certain about the world, therefore we shouldn’t even try to understand it…is an abdication of responsibility.”
    So might I ask why you pointed me to that post?

  16. Kagehi says

    Cl, you are wrong. Yes, there are some atheists that have reached the conclusion that no god, of any sort at all, *could* exist. But even they place that on a bet of probability in most cases. Like, the odds of finding and Ojama Yellow card in a standard set of poker cards. Unless someone is pulling something mighty fishy, or their is some factory some place making “both” types of cards, the odds are pretty much 0 that you will find a Yugio card in a poker deck. That isn’t the same that as being **certain** you are right.
    Fact is, most atheists think agnostics are kind of silly, in that they agree on the same things, premises, etc., even to the point of describing their personal position, in many cases, in the exact *same* way as most atheists do, just for some damn reason they have fallen for at least part of the BS from the theist anti-atheist screed, and actually think you have to be domatically certain of your own undeniable positions to be an atheist. Well… We call people, no matter what they claim to be, that hold absolute, undeniable and dogmatic assertions, “idiots”. Which kind of flies in the face of your assertion that we are somehow equally prone to false certainties as theists are. You can find theists that have absolutely no certainty at all of their faith, but cling to it on the basis that they *think* there is some horrifying consequence to abandoning the shredded scraps of their belief system. You can find some nit wits claiming to be atheists that make other atheists cringe, but exhibiting the worst blind stupidity and assertions of certainty about their views as the most nuts theist. This doesn’t mean that *either* of those extremes are “normal” for such people. But, it makes a damn good excuse to dislike them, and a damn stupid argument, if you don’t want to feed the trolls and fundies what they crave, since they **want** people to think that our side is literally 100% filled with dogmatic loonies, while their side only has a “few” nuts.
    If you really think we are as prone to such, then either you badly misunderstand atheists, or you need to give some sort of evidence for the assertion (which doesn’t amount to pointing out a few nuts, or quote mining someone, and saying, “Ah ha!”.

  17. Kagehi says

    Hmm. Didn’t read all of the posts before replying, so “some” of my comments might have been worded differently given those. One mention though:
    “Besides, can arguing that micro and macroevolution are legitimate terms biologists actually use be reasonably construed as defending religion?”
    Which ones, and in what context? The problem here is that macro and micro can be used, depending one scale, to describe just about fracking anything. The question then becomes not, “Do any biologists *ever* use the term?”, but, “Do they use the term in the same scale/scope/context as its is being misapplied by ID proponents?” The answer to that one is both maybe and **NO**. Maybe, because there may be some cases where you want to talk about large scale changes, and *sometimes* those may fall, by pure accident, into the same scale as ID people babble about all the time. But, also *no*, because its not applied to the same scope of questions *or* the same *context*. I.e., if you use the right word, for the wrong thing, its still meaningless, even of other people, rarely, use it for the “right” thing.
    Well, that and its hardly certain that you won’t get a few borderline nuts in biology that use it in the “same” context, even though they disagree on the conclusions and 90% of the other biologists think the context is flat out stupid and meaningless, no matter what conclusion you reach from it. But that is a whole different can of worms, since its a bit like having two people believe in UFOs, and only one of them insisting that those things come from space and that the little green men inside them abduct people. Its possible to be absurd (the idea that some might be secret projects isn’t just plausible, there are cases where its accurate, even if its not true in 100% of all instances), without being completely blinkering insane. The question is still, “Does it make sense to use the terms at all, when there is no *meaningful* distinction between one and the other, not?”, not, “Is it OK for 99.9% rational people to use the term, despite being meaningless, as long as they are not creationists?”
    The answer, in that context, is obviously, “No, because its meaningless anyway, and it plays into the hand of people that have given it a meaning that is *contrary* to what ever you intended to apply it to.” This fact is even more absurd in that genetics shows that even single gene changes can trigger developmental effect, which can *drastically* alter the features of species, if the right genes change, and there is no redundancy to prevent it. You could, probably, turn a chicken back into a tailed dino-bird with primitive feathers by simply taking the chicken from china that **already has** those primitive feathers, then changing 1-2 developmental genes that cause it to lose 90% of its tail segments during development in the egg. (They start with about 80% of the length that their ancestors “had” before they became birds.) And this same gene change, it appears, may even be “linked” to changes in the head, which replaced the toothed mouths with beaks.
    So, again, its a case of scale. ID/Creationists want the scale to be like 200,000 genes, or something, but the actual number of needed “differences” to come fairly close to a different species, from the original, may be a few dozen. Not 100% identical to the original, or to what ever you are tweaking it towards, but a “lot” of the genes that changed may have jack to do with development and the physical characteristics, but effect blood types, digestion, alterations to some behaviors/brain function, etc., none of which are “visible”, and most hard to quantify as sufficiently different for any but a biologist to say that X isn’t Y, but only “looks like one”, in the first place.

  18. says

    @ kagehi,
    Hi, I was just checking back here to see if Greta had addressed my latest response, and I noticed yours. So, what exactly are you saying I’m wrong about? The first comment was unclear and the second thread drift entirely.

  19. says

    CL: “So might I ask why you pointed me to that post?”
    I pointed it to you because it seems to me that you’ve been arguing, “We can’t tell for 100% sure that religion is wrong, therefore we have to take it seriously as a proposition.” I could be mistaken — your comments are often very unclear and are kind of all over the map — but that seems to be a common thread in many of your arguments.
    Here’s an example of what I mean.
    “…and I would add that in my opinion, theists and atheists are FAR more prone to this logical error than agnostics, because they get an opinion in their head one way or the other and then become committed to it. Agnosticism says ‘I don’t know,’ quite literally.”
    You seem to think that being an atheist means being 100% convinced that God does not exist. This is a misunderstanding of atheism. I have yet to meet an atheist who thinks that. Even Richard Dawkins doesn’t think that.
    Being an atheist means… well, it’s subtly different for different people. But for most atheists I know, it means thinking that God’s existence is extremely unlikely… so unlikely that we can effectively discard it as a hypothesis unless some very good new evidence comes along to change our minds. It means thinking that there’s no good evidence or logic to support the God hypothesis. It means thinking that the “there is no God” hypothesis makes much more sense, and is much more consistent with what we know about the world, than the hypothesis that there is a God.
    In science, and in life, you have to make the best guess you can based on the evidence that you have, and then move forward. It’s not being close-minded to reject the God hypothesis, any more than it’s close-minded to reject the Zeus hypothesis, or the demonic possession hypothesis, or the hypothesis that gravity is caused by an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster, who holds us all down with his noodly appendages. Or the hypothesis of aether, or phlogiston, or the four bodily humours. (Being close-minded would mean rejecting these hypotheses, or any other, even after there started to be good evidence supporting them.)
    No, we don’t know for 100% sure that there is no God. So what? We don’t know for sure that there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster, no Invisible Pink Unicorn, no chine teapot orbiting the Sun. But most of us still feel completely comfortable discarding these hypotheses. Atheists put God in the same category.

  20. Spacesocks says

    CL, you made this reply to Ebonmuse:
    “If so, then we just return to the original point: Who’s right and how do you know?” And again, I agree 100%.
    What, exactly, do you agree with here? How do you think we should judge the credibility of religious claims?
    Do you think that because we can’t disprove them, we should maintain “50/50 agnosticism”? But then you agreed with Greta when she said “the fact that we can’t be 100% sure of any idea doesn’t mean that all ideas are equally likely or unlikely.”
    This brings us back to your original comment, and Greta’s thesis in this post. Her position (and the atheist position generally) is that any objective claims about the existence of God are fair game for scientific investigation. She has explained at great length in other posts why she thinks the scientific method is the best we have for evaluating claims about the real world. An imaginary God that is real for individual believers and for no one else can be known on subjective terms, but when most believers talk about God, they mean a being that exists as an OBJECTIVE reality.
    The substance of your initial comment, as I understand it, is that Greta is unjustified in assuming that empirical methods are the best way to determine whether God exists or not.
    Let me lay out the skeleton of the “scientific atheist” argument:
    Premises:
    1. If God exists as part of external reality and is active in the world, we should be able to observe the effects of God’s activities.
    2. The best method humans have developed to explain external reality is the scientific method.
    Conclusion:
    Therefore, the scientific method is the best method we have for investigating claims of God’s existence.
    The second argument:
    Premises:
    1. The scientific method is the best method we have for investigating claims of God’s existence. Let’s call the proposition that God exists “the God hypothesis,” and examine the evidence people use to support it.
    2. There is a lot of proposed evidence for the existence of God, but it is all bogus, or at least highly suspect.
    Conclusion:
    Therefore, the God hypothesis is empirically unjustified, and we reject it.
    Feel free to attack any of these premises or show that the conclusions don’t follow from them. I hope this will help us clarify where exactly we disagree.

  21. says

    @Greta
    Spot on. It’s not that I don’t sometimes enjoy debate about religion, though as you say it too often resembles a descent into the marshmallow core; it’s that I wish that what could be valuable discussions about religion among the people who see it for what it is (ie atheists) didn’t always get sidetracked into becoming debates with religion’s defenders.

  22. says

    @ Greta,
    Sorry for the bulky response. I’m trying my best to keep everything real and relevant.
    @ Paul,
    Although I’m not offended, and I sincerely apologize if I inadvertently offended you when I asked you to support your charge of confusion, I find it discouraging that questioning a singular aspect of an atheist post equates to defending religion in some people’s minds.
    @ Spacesocks,
    Thanks for your comment, it’s exactly what I was looking for, and I’ll try me best to roll my response to Greta within.
    To answer your first question, I don’t recommend anyone should do anything other than do what we all do and that’s view life through a philosophical lens of some particular persuasion. I wouldn’t recommend a percentage or ratio (ie 50/50 agnosticism, 60/40 atheism or whatever) to anybody about religion, because everybody’s experience with the subject is unique and cannot be judged without an experiential point of reference. The question itself implies misunderstanding surrounding my argument. Although I think there are ideas we can be 100% sure of, I agree with Greta in spirit when she says, “the fact that we can’t be 100% sure of any idea doesn’t mean that all ideas are equally likely or unlikely.” I’ve never argued the converse anyhow. Her mention of the 100%-certainty trope seemed to be a response to something she apparently read in my words, and more importantly, it’s entirely irrelevant to my argument.
    Based on a misperception I was arguing the 100%-certainty trope, Greta said, “You don’t need absolute 100% certainty about a proposition to be able to make a rational, evidence-based assessment as to whether that proposition is likely, or supported by evidence, or even plausible.” And I say of course not! Contrary, you DO need at least some degree of uncertainty, because if you had absolute certainty about a proposition there’d be no need for assessment of that proposition in the first place, right? That’s why I was so perplexed she pointed me to the unrelated post. In agreeing with her on this point, I’m essentially rejecting as she does the 100% certainty trope, which I’ve not embraced here or elsewhere. So this is an illogical strawman we can hopefully let burn.
    I feel your following paragraph clarifying Greta’s thesis was redundant and I feel my words elsewhere on the thread illustrate perfect understanding of Greta’s thesis. In a similar vein of redundancy, although I’m completely unaware of any repeatable hard evidence ever purported to confirm the existence of God, I’ve no need to attack your premises or conclusions concerning the scientific atheist’s reasoning about the God hypothesis, arguments that I’m quite familiar with and occassionally employ myself. If by citing “evidence for God” you refer to ontological arguments (which aren’t science), then, yeah I think they’re bogus too.
    However, you’re dead-on in your assessment of my original comment, where you summarize my claim: “Greta is unjustified in assuming that empirical methods are the best way to determine whether God exists or not.” Although your words here are a bit different than mine, my original question was, “How can one claim to know the best method of apprehending a being whose very existence one is questioning?” Greta’s response to this was, “Scientists figure out ways to determine the existence or non-existence of entities whose existence they’re questioning ALL THE TIME.”
    Again, I agree. She notes electrons and I add quantum theory. At a time when most folks were quite sure the atom was the indivisible, fundamental unit of matter, Thomson’s work with the cathode ray tube suggested otherwise. Was not the classic question of JJ’s time, “How can you discover a particle so small that nobody has ever seen one?” Regarding the quanta proposed indirectly by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860′s and later by Einstein 1905 and Planck, Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, de Broglie, Dirac, Paulie, et al., scientists had to figure out a way to verify these strange photons whose existence they were questioning. Worse than that, they had to figure out a way to reconcile the verifications with the traditional Newtonian foundation, a feat that required no less than a massive paradigm shift that redirected the entire body of science. But all this is secondary, and Greta’s defense by analogy is not valid here because there’s a catch, and to me it’s a big one in light of other arguments made on this blog:
    Scientists only apprehend empirically that which is amenable to empiricism.
    Earlier in the thread, Chaplain made a comment about believers wanting to have their God both ways. Here I opine the logical error does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Although Greta is correct in saying that scientists had to figure out a way to verify the existence of phenomena whose very existence they were questioning, in each case their questioning was prompted by hard evidence – repeatable, empirical observations they could not explain. Although this doesn’t contradict Greta’s or my claim in this post that God is not a contingent being, elsewhere on this blog Greta has affirmed vehemently that there is not even a prospect of hard evidence for the idea of God or religious faith.
    In the examples of quanta and electrons, it’s absolutely true that science figured out how to assess whether the objects in question existed or not: By measuring hard evidence in the form of the questioned-particles’ effects in space-time, right?
    However, what can scientists reasonably do under 100% absence of any hard evidence?
    And isn’t the unilateral claim of this blog, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al. and atheism in general that there is NO hard evidence for the God hypothesis?
    To me Greta’s claim only holds water under the admission of hard evidence for God, because hard evidence is the genesis of science.
    Does it not seem problematic to declare the study of hard evidence as the best means of verifying a proposition we’ve previously defined as something “…for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence?”

  23. VorJack says

    CL-
    Can you point me towards an atheist who is saying that there “can be no evidence” for a deity? I’ve heard plenty say that there is no evidence for one, but that’s a very different thing than saying that such evidence could not exist.
    It seem to me that this is part of Greta’s point, that if there was indeed a deity, then there would be some hard evidence – there would be observable miracles, physical laws would be seen to fluctuate at its will, the universe would have a union label, or something. In fact, Ebonmuse has produced a famous post where he suggested types of evidence that would convince him that a God existed. Since there is no such evidence, then the thing to do is render the provisional assessment that no such entity exists.
    Furthermore, if someone were to propose an entity for which there could be no evidence, I would point that person to Carl Sagan’s thought experiment of the Dragon in the Garage. Long story short, for an entity to produce no evidence, it would have to have no effect on the universe. Any effect on the universe should be measurable or observable and thus be usable as evidence. So this raises an important question: If an entity generates nothing that could be used as evidence – is IOW invisible, intangible, and does not affect the universe in any measurable or observable way – what is the difference between this entity and one that does not exist?

  24. says

    @ Vorjack,
    Thanks for hoppin’ in, hopefully someone will get something out of the exchanges.
    Differences over the claim that there is no hard evidence for God and the claim that there can be no hard evidence for God are incidental and unrelated to my question, so I’ll go no further with them.
    I agree with you and Greta that a non-contingent deity might be accompanied by evidence. Adults know science can’t devise a “God test” that anyone can access empirically in a laboratory. You and Greta argue that if a deity existed that affected reality, we could observe its evidence. I have no problem with this. I also know that evidence is in the eye of the beholder, and that what one person sees as evidence of one cause will undoubtedly be seen by another person as evidence of some other cause. Did God cause me to fall off my bike? Or was it a failure of physics resulting from intoxication with alcohol? Similarly, one person sees the current panoply of life as evidence for God; another person sees that same panoply of life as evidence of something impersonal. I think we all wear philosophical glasses and I think everyone gets what they want in the end.
    I understand Greta’s claim. I was quoting her own words when she defined religious faith as, “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence.” The ‘something’ religious people believe in is almost always some form of God(s) and unless you or Greta wishes to argue that the ‘something’ in that sentence wasn’t some form of God(s), my confusion stands warranted and to you I repeat the question:
    Does it not seem problematic to declare the study of hard evidence as the best means of verifying a proposition we’ve previously defined as something “…for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence?”

  25. VorJack says

    “I think we all wear philosophical glasses and I think everyone gets what they want in the end.”
    I’m not prepared to be this relativistic. If that’s the direction you’re going, there really is not point to this discussion – or any other discussion. If we’re not going to agree that there is a perceivable reality and some rough-and-tumble way of coming to know what it is, then why are we even bothering? I’m right, you’re right, we’re all right, except the poor scientists, who are only finding what they want to find and calling it “reality.”
    The quote you pull from Greta is a criticism about the nature of faith. One definition of faith states that it is the belief in something for which there will never be evidence. Many believers hold that believing in something despite the absolute lack of evidence is a virtue. [see Dennet's "Breaking the Spell"] Atheists generally believe that this is not only foolish and illogical but actually harmful. Regardless, Greta was not saying that there can never be any evidence for a deity – just the opposite. If something exists, there should be evidence; this is why faith is foolish.
    It’s probably worth mentioning – as others have pointed out in this thread – that while many believers insist that faith in something for which there is no evidence is a virtue, they also insist that they believe due to evidence (and thus they are not virtuous, I guess.)

  26. says

    “I was quoting her own words when she defined religious faith as, ‘believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence.’”
    No, cl. You completely and 100% missed my point.
    I *don’t* argue that there can be no hard evidence for God. In fact, in this piece I’m arguing the exact opposite. I think there could, theoretically, be hard evidence for the existence of God. I just think there isn’t any.
    But I also argue that religious believers set up their beliefs in a way that very conveniently dodges questions of hard evidence. Religious belief has an elaborate set of defenses against such questions: defenses that include, but are not limited to, the constant redefinition of God in the face of new information about the world; the idea that God is acting on the world but is deliberately concealing evidence of this intervention; and the idea that God is best known through intuition rather than reason and evidence.
    That’s what I mean when I say that there can be no hard evidence for religious belief. Yes, believers have set up their belief in a way that resists questions of evidence. That doesn’t mean they’re right to do so. (I also mean the fact that the God hypothesis cannot be disproven with 100% certainty. But as I’ve pointed out many times, that’s an argument that doesn’t hold water.)
    (And for the record: This is a subject on which I’ve changed my mind over the last few months and years. So if you find an older post or comment of mine that contradicts it, please don’t bother to point it out.)
    And to answer your question: What can scientists reasonably do under 100% absence of any hard evidence? They can discard the fracking hypothesis. That’s what they can do. In the absence of any hard evidence, the sensible thing to do is not to concoct an elaborate set of apologetics explaining why your hypothesis is beyond evidence. The sensible thing to do is to discard it.
    As to this:
    “I also know that evidence is in the eye of the beholder, and that what one person sees as evidence of one cause will undoubtedly be seen by another person as evidence of some other cause.”
    Sorry, but that’s a total cop-out. Yes, there are different opinions and interpretations of reality. But that doesn’t mean that all interpretations are equally valid. Some are demonstrably better than others.
    You seem to be saying that God is that which, by definition, cannot be tested by hard evidence. I’m saying that that’s a bogus definition. I’m saying that to posit an entity that acts on the physical world but whose existence cannot be examined by reason or evidence is a logical contradiction.
    You seem to be saying…
    You know, what exactly are you saying?
    I’m serious. You’ve been commenting in this blog for months now, and it’s recently occurred to me that I have no real idea what you think. Your comments have been all over the map, in some cases with seemingly contradictory opinions. And you spend a lot of time trying to pick apart other people’s ideas and assertions, without making any clear ones of your own.
    What exactly is it that you’re trying to say? I don’t mean “What statements of mine or other people are you trying to argue against?” I mean this: What position are you, cl, asserting in these debates?

  27. says

    @ Vorjack,
    I don’t think my statement about philosophical glasses was relative. I do think I shouldn’t have included it because it obscured our argument.
    Point blank: In a post about why religion is a mistaken idea, Greta previously defined religious faith as, “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence.”
    Now unless we admit that there is some fact that can be reasonably interpreted as hard evidence of God’s action in the world, does it not seem contradictory to declare the study of hard evidence the best means of verifying a proposition we’ve previously defined as something “…for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence?”
    To me that just doesn’t make sense, but I’m more than willing to learn.

  28. Indigo says

    cl, you are quoting Greta out of context. She did not say “God is that for which there is no hard evidence and can be none”, and she has explained to you that that is not what she believes. In fact it’s the exact opposite. She’s saying that it’s religious believers who are defining God this way – justifying their unempirical faith on the grounds that God is not subject to empirical criteria. That is what faith is.

  29. says

    @ Greta,
    I didn’t miss your point. I based mine off your own words. You mentioned changing your mind about things and that may be part of the problem. The words of yours I quoted were from your post dated November 19, 2007 about why religion is a mistaken idea. I was just taking them at their face value, and seeing as how they contradict your comment above where you say you don’t argue that there can be no hard evidence for God, it appears your opinion has changed but the words have not been updated.
    You ask what position I’m asserting in these debates, but I haven’t asserted one yet. If asserting a position on theism vs. atheism is a prerequisite to comment here, I’ll gladly stop.
    I’m sorry if you’re concerned that I spend a lot of time picking apart opinions. I do, but it’s not in a negative or denigrating context. Rather, in these debates I’m seriously trying to understand the thinking behind my host’s reasoning. That’s the motive behind anything I ever question on this blog or elsewhere. That’s why I made such a fuss about that macro / micro bit. Due to your justified distaste of creationist pseudoscience bullshit, you mistakenly told your readership that macro and microevolution were terms creationists concocted to make themselves sound scientific. Now you respectfully recanted here and I don’t mean to harp. You ask about my motives, and it’s just that many people of many alignments are irresponsible in their delivery of science and logic to the public; I want to be (and am for the most part) assured you are not one of them. Excuse my skepticism.
    So, for the record, are you recanting your earlier definition of religious faith as, “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence?”
    If so, then that was the entire source of my confusion, which would still remain justified.

  30. says

    @ Indigo,
    I quoted Greta’s definition of religious faith as, “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence.” Her own words!
    Now it’s fine if her opinion has changed, and as delineated in my comment posted at 2:26pm, if Greta wishes to recant that definition, the disagreement comes to an end but my confusion is still justified.
    Wouldn’t you say?

  31. VorJack says

    We’re probably going to keep going in circles here, but it’s slightly more amusing than doing nothing.
    CL -
    First off, strictly speaking, that’s not necessarily Greta’s definition of faith. She’s pointing towards a definition used by many contemporary Christian believers. That definition could very well be a paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1.
    She’s saying that believers have set things up so that a lack of evidence for the object of their belief is actually good for them. These believers will tell you that the lack of evidence is actually because their deity is hiding its existence from them in order to test their faith. Thus, to them, there can never be any evidence for God, because then there would never be a need for faith. (If you’ve ever read “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” then you should recognize that this is what Adams was parodying with his babelfish joke.)
    Greta was specifically criticizing this belief. She was NOT saying that there could never be evidence for a deity. She was criticizing those people who do. She is saying, as she echoed above, that if there is a deity, there should be evidence.
    Now THREE PEOPLE have told you that you are misusing the quote, and one of them is the author. Please take another look at the post.

  32. says

    @ Vorjack,
    You say, “Now THREE PEOPLE have told you that you are misusing the quote, and one of them is the author. Please take another look at the post.” Under the context I found it, I am not misusing the quote, and I think you should take another look at the blog as a whole.
    I asked Greta in my last comment if she was recanting. At least as recently as November 19th 2007, Greta’s definition of religious faith was, “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence.” If her definition has changed, which I suspect, then my argument is dissolved, but my initial confusion over how something for which there is no hard evidence can be made amenable to empiricism would still be justified in the absence of such a recant.
    Right?

  33. Spacesocks says

    CL,
    Greta’s definition of faith as “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence” is her interpretation of how THEISTS see it. People who justify their belief in God based on “faith” recognize that there is no hard evidence for God’s existence. But, rather than discard the “God hypothesis,” they just figure that the nature of God is such that there can be no evidence of his existence or his activities.
    It’s not a question of whether Greta has “recanted” or not. She herself does not believe that “faith” is a good way of justifying anything, including belief in God. She thinks that if God exists, there SHOULD be evidence.
    Your perspective seems to be that the fact that she addresses the idea that belief in God cannot be based on evidence, means that she endorses this idea. She has already explained to you that this is not the case.

  34. says

    CL:
    My current position is the one I stated in the comment above. I’ll repeat it here:
    “I *don’t* argue that there can be no hard evidence for God. In fact, in this piece I’m arguing the exact opposite. I think there could, theoretically, be hard evidence for the existence of God. I just think there isn’t any.
    “But I also argue that religious believers set up their beliefs in a way that very conveniently dodges questions of hard evidence. Religious belief has an elaborate set of defenses against such questions: defenses that include, but are not limited to, the constant redefinition of God in the face of new information about the world; the idea that God is acting on the world but is deliberately concealing evidence of this intervention; and the idea that God is best known through intuition rather than reason and evidence.
    “That’s what I mean when I say that there can be no hard evidence for religious belief. Yes, believers have set up their belief in a way that resists questions of evidence. That doesn’t mean they’re right to do so. (I also mean the fact that the God hypothesis cannot be disproven with 100% certainty. But as I’ve pointed out many times, that’s an argument that doesn’t hold water.)”
    Yes, this is somewhat different from my position six months ago. I’m not sure I’d call it recanting exactly — I think “clarification” is a more accurate word — but if saying that I’m recanting that earlier statement will get you to stop debating a current post by hammering on a single out- of- context sentence that I wrote six months ago (in a post where the sentence in question was very much secondary to the main point I was making), then fine. I’ll recant it.

  35. Spacesocks says

    Also,
    Re: “You ask what position I’m asserting in these debates, but I haven’t asserted one yet. If asserting a position on theism vs. atheism is a prerequisite to comment here, I’ll gladly stop.”
    Ahem, the reason why they asked you what position is, is that you haven’t made your position clear. We are all curious as to what that position is.
    You aren’t, of course, required to state one, but it would make it a lot easier for us to reply to you. Especially since you have told us on several occasions that we have mischaracterized your position. If you don’t tell us what you really think, it’s really hard to avoid playing a guessing-game, and you’ll just keep telling us we guessed wrong.
    And don’t say “excuse my skepticism.” As if anyone here were against skepticism! Nobody is expressing annoyance at you simply for being skeptical of their arguments.
    I hope you understand why people find it annoying that you’re debating them without letting them debate you.

  36. says

    @ Spacesocks,
    You say, “Greta’s definition of faith as “believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence” is her interpretation of how THEISTS see it.”
    I disagree. Have you read the original post? There is no definitive context that can support your claim. That’s why Greta ‘recanted’ or ‘clarified’ and it’s no big deal.
    Skepticism could be described as the constant pressing of questioning and that seems to me what I’m being chastised for here, but others will disagree.
    Regarding my position, I made it clear from the outset: I took issue that the study of hard evidence could be claimed as the best means of verifying something “…for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence.” But Greta and I cleared that up so it’s a moot point now.
    Further regarding my position, although no one is entirely immune from their own beliefs, as much as possible my comments and posts aim to be non-partisan. Whereas other bloggers readily and identifiably position themselves in one or more outposts of the Great Culture War, I purposely choose to abstain from the entire construct, as much as possible keeping my beliefs and personal opinions out of the debate, encouraging critical analysis of words, facts and ideas and discouraging the knee-jerk reactions and human indecency so typical of partisan-ism and every other kind of “ism.” Not saying that’s what I’ve encountered here, either.
    I frequently note the apparent patterns: Atheists and “liberals” consistently supporting and complimenting other atheists and often confronting anyone who seems to dissent – with the faith-based “conservatives” and “creationists” often none the better. I do want to add to the integrity of the debate, but I’ve no Scarlet A or Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma showing on my blog, and alas! My beliefs aren’t readily discernible every 25 words – I’ve got no allies! No enemies! No backpatters from the same camp to clog up the intellectual integrity of the debate, no haters or trolls provoking my beliefs, no one refuting the scientific or scriptural validity of anything, which, by the way is what such debate needs most.
    I gained much from the discussion, but nobody needs to know anything about what sort of ‘ism’ I embrace because it’s not pertinent to this argument, which has all to do with logical consistency between two separate posts and nothing to do with theism vs. atheism.
    Besides, what if I genuinely don’t know the totality of what I believe yet?
    @ Greta,
    Okay well I feel like a total dick for sticking to my logical guns, and from now on I’ll try to keep my comments to myself. But then you have to take me off your mailing list (which I don’t want), because you can’t send me these thought-provoking posts every day or so and expect me not to voice agreement, leave a joke or raise an issue of legitimate debate!
    I’m only “hammering” in response to people’s comments, and as we see, my confusion was justified. Big deal? It’s not, “I’m right, you’re wrong” but a matter of clarification, evolution, right? Surely you can’t expect me not to defend myself against claims of apologism when I was in fact showing a legitimate contradiction between two separate posts, that we cleared up, right?
    Now since you said your position had changed or had been clarified, then my argument dissolves as I said, but still my confusion was justified.
    So sorry, everyone, who felt like I was the antagonist, or the one to be the asshole, but how anyone can fault me for holding a writer to what was justifiably perceived as that writer’s own word?
    I mean, I’ve given alot here, complimented a few people, admitted and agreed alot with everybody, and nobody’s given me even an inch. Why?

  37. VorJack says

    “I disagree. Have you read the original post? There is no definitive context that can support your claim.”
    I’m sorry, CL, but I still must disagree. Greta is discussing the common perception among believers that faith is a virtue. It seems obvious then that the definition of faith she is describing is the one used by the believers themselves. If we must agree to disagree, so be it. But to insist that your reading is the face value interpretation is simply false.
    “So sorry, everyone, who felt like I was the antagonist, or the one to be the asshole, but how anyone can fault me for holding a writer to what was justifiably perceived as that writer’s own word?”
    CL, we all lined up here to explain to you that you were misinterpreting the quote. Four or so of us tried different phrasings and different tactics to explain to you how you were doing so and what a more accurate interpretation could be. Greta herself, who typed the words in question, arrived to say that you had 100% missed the point of the quote.
    Still, you labored on. You had your interpretation, and you were sticking to it, author be damned.
    Your definition of skepticism and my definition of stubbornness seem to be identical. You ask questions, but you don’t seem to learn anything from the answers.

  38. Spacesocks says

    Greta said to you, “but if saying that I’m recanting that earlier statement will get you to stop debating a current post by hammering on a single out- of- context sentence that I wrote six months ago (in a post where the sentence in question was very much secondary to the main point I was making), then fine. I’ll recant it.”
    You said to me, “I disagree. Have you read the original post? There is no definitive context that can support your claim. That’s why Greta ‘recanted’ or ‘clarified’ and it’s no big deal.”
    You are a funny person, cl.
    Greta only ‘recanted’ to get you to stop hammering on an out-of-context quote. It seemed to be a big deal for you at the time.
    I posted before you responded to her. Considering the fact that her previous attempts to clarify the issue proved futile, I thought that what I had to say was still relevant to the discussion. I now realize that you were just waiting for her to concede victory to you, and I was beating a dead horse after all.
    You ask why nobody’s given you an inch. That is disingenuous. Greta just gave you an inch…and you took a mile.
    I’m sorry if you feel like people are ganging up on you for voicing objections, but nobody is chastising you for OBJECTING per se; they just disagree with you, think you have taken things out of context, and find you debating style to be rather slippery. The persecuted tone and the claim to the rational high ground for being “non-partisan” are not impressive, and will not earn you the pat on the back you seem to desire.
    I personally do not get embroiled in internet debates unless someone makes a comment I find particularly irritating. The last time this happened was with an “End of Faith”-thumping atheist fundamentalist on a Skepchick comment board. I was joined by several liberal and moderate religious people. So I guess that undermines your thinly veiled accusation that the people who are arguing with you are “partisans” who will only nod along to their fellow atheists, and who are merely arguing with you because you are…whatever you are.

  39. says

    @ Vorjack,
    You say, “to insist that your reading is the face value interpretation is simply false.” Fair enough. You, and I, are free to interpret freely.
    I like this attempt: “Your definition of skepticism and my definition of stubbornness seem to be identical. You ask questions, but you don’t seem to learn anything from the answers.” I actually learned much. I learned that Greta had in fact felt the need to clarify her position. The second Greta clarified or recanted or whatever, I dropped the argument. She did, and as I admitted 2 or 3 times now, my argument as originally stated dissolves and I stand in the maximum state of agreement possible. In screenwriting that’s called a character arc and it means the protagonist learned something or changed.
    Agree or disagree?

  40. says

    @ Spacesocks,
    You write, “You ask why nobody’s given you an inch. That is disingenuous. Greta just gave you an inch…” You’re right. I’m sorry I overlooked that.
    And the following I noted as a general pattern:
    You write, “So I guess that undermines your thinly veiled accusation that the people who are arguing with you are “partisans” who will only nod along to their fellow atheists, and who are merely arguing with you because you are…whatever you are.”
    I said that was a general pattern I saw in the atheoshpere, and if you go to the end of that paragraph, you find, “Not saying that’s what I’ve encountered here, either.” Incidentally, maybe I’ll go to Skepchick and hope for such luck!
    Greta clarified her point. Her and I are now in maximum agreement on this issue.
    Are you and I in disagreement on any real issue worthy of debate? If so I’m down to continue, if not I don’t think we have anything left to argue about! Do we?

  41. says

    Okay.
    First of all, cl, Spacesocks and everyone else in this thread understood perfectly what I meant — IN THIS POST. With you, however, it took several go-arounds to get to the fact that you were responding to a single out- of- context sentence that I wrote six months ago.
    Now.
    There’s probably no nice way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. CL, there’s a word in the blogosphere for people who argue and debate and try to poke holes in other people’s ideas without putting forward any of their own.
    It’s called trolling.
    You say that you’re simply trying to understand the position of the bloggers whose blogs you’re visiting. You may not be aware of it, but that is definitely not how your comments in this blog come across. Your comments come across as though you’re trying to pick a fight. They don’t read as though you’re genuinely inquiring and trying to understand. They read as contradictory, argumentative, and baiting.
    Among other things, you repeatedly hammer on very small points while overlooking the main substance of the point being made. What’s more, your own views are unclear, slippery, and inconsistent, and now I see why: you’re not actually taking a position, but are merely acting as a critic of other people’s ideas without actually positing any of your own.
    You’re relatively new to the blogosphere, so let me give you a word to the wise: This behavior is considered extremely obnoxious. It is very frustrating to try to debate someone who won’t take a clear stand but who delights in trying to poke holes in yours. And as Spacesocks said, it’s completely unfair for you to express annoyance over people misunderstanding or mischaracterizing your position, when you aren’t willing to clearly state what that position is.
    As to the culture wars: Once again, I want to point you to Ebonmuse’s excellent post, “The Golden Mean.” In it, he rips to shreds an idea that you seem very attached to — namely, that in a dispute between people on strongly opposing sides of a question, both sides must be wrong, and the truth must lie somewhere in the middle. I strongly suggest that you read it before continuing this or any other debate about religion… or any other topic, for that matter.
    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2007/05/the-golden-mean.html
    But most importantly, your whole “I am apart from the fray, I am a non-partisan independent thinker who is abstaining from the battle and merely wants to shed the light of critical analysis and integrity on the proceedings” attitude… it’s total bullshit. What’s the point of getting into a debate if you don’t have a point to make — other than the point that everyone other than you is wrong?
    Taking a position is not the same as being partisan or close-minded. Taking a position, going out on a limb to defend it while being open to changing your mind if you’re presented with a good argument… that’s hard. And it’s a great way to refine and clarify your thinking. Critiquing other people’s ideas without coming up with any of your own… that’s easy. And it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t add anything to the discussion but heat. It’s conflict for conflict’s sake. A.K.A., trolling.
    You are in this fray as much as anyone else. But you’re not shedding any light. All you’re doing is stirring the pot. It’s total gadfly fallacy. And it’s not very interesting. Most of us have better things to do with our time.
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/09/the-galileo-fal.html
    If you want to continue getting into discussions in this blog, I respectfully request that, as my dad used to say, you either piss or get off the pot. If all you want to do is troll for fights, if all you want to do is try to point out mistakes in everyone else’s positions without having the courage to take any of your own, then I don’t see any point in debating with you at all — on this topic, or any other.

  42. Spacesocks says

    CL,
    Ha, I doubt we’re in serious disagreement about substantial philosophical issues! I never actually thought we were, except at the very beginning of this thread, before I entered the debate. When I did enter, I did so because I thought you were mischaracterizing the views of your opponents (that’s why I offered the clarification that you thought was unnecessary). I’ll admit that I’ve mainly been responding to you when you push my pride buttons. And, also, I take issue with your debating style, which I have previously characterized as “slippery” (though you probably take pride in being “hard to pin down”).

  43. says

    @ Spacesocks,
    Understood. I’m not as much of a douche as all this may appear to make me. Contrary to Greta’s claim, I do take positions in my comments here and elsewhere. I object to your claim that my debating style is evasive or whatever..I have an entire blog’s worth of posts you can attack if you wish to further advance that argument. I learned here and would probably learn there.
    Thanks!

  44. says

    @ Greta,
    You know what’s ironic is that I was accused of trolling on the Chaplain’s blog for my refusal to relent of an objection to the logical cogency of a single statement in a post I otherwise agreed with. Worse, one of the commenters there sent a troll on me in the form of an annoying Christian moniker, “Trinity.” One of the other commenters there contacted me personally via email later and confirmed this.
    When it happened, I looked up the definition of trolling and their immature hypocrisy was readily apparent. Insincerity for the sake of conflict is the classic earmark of trolling.
    Now when you voice your opinion that, “[cl's] comments come across as though trying to pick a fight. They don’t read as genuinely inquiring and trying to understand. They read as contradictory, argumentative, and baiting.” Well, I thank you for being so frank and will have to take that into consideration. However discomforting, my words are always sincere, and never trolling. Was the macro / micro thing or the geno / phenotype thing trolling? Or were they legitimate objections raised in sincerity? Because the latter motive is at work in all instances.
    I’m not scouring the posts looking for fights to troll, as you allege. I simply peruse the posts as you disperse them via Feedblitz, and if I see something I feel is in need of comment, I say it, as with noting the eerie similarities between your dad and RT. Also, if I feel something is in need of further explanation I speak up about it. There’s been legit errors on this blog before. I thought this post contained another legit error, based on a legitimate reading of a post you made six months ago. So I spoke up. You clarified. I relented. We now stand in near maximum agreement on the issue. This is progression, not trolling, so please don’t call me a troll when I’m being sincere and admitting progress for frack’s sake.
    Regarding the culture wars, I don’t know why you bothered to write this: “Once again, I want to point you to Ebonmuse’s excellent post, “The Golden Mean.” In it, he rips to shreds an idea that you seem very attached to — namely, that in a dispute between people on strongly opposing sides of a question, both sides must be wrong, and the truth must lie somewhere in the middle.” I don’t think that both sides must be wrong in a dispute between people on strongly opposing sides of a question. I do loosely accept the general notion of the middle path. But that’s secondary and strawman, and if I’m so damn uninteresting why take any tangents?
    And will you really borderline insult me by implying I have no ideas of my own? Surely the amount of time you’ve spent studying posts on my blogs is minuscule or non-existent, or you wouldn’t make such a claim! I’ll defend any of my positions, anytime, anywhere. Especially on my own blogs where there are tons of them.
    Now in this particular thread, well golly-gee, you’re right…I didn’t put forth many positions of my own. There’s a reason. In this particular exchange I had no light to shed; rather, I needed light shed on your words as expressed November 19th 2007. You provided that light.
    If I ever voice dissent here again, I will take greater caution in formulating my arguments.
    My apologies to you and your readership.

  45. Spacesocks says

    CL,
    I realize your comments were sincere, but you DID rub people the wrong way in this thread. That’s what it was about, not the fact that you disagreed on a few points. Did you notice how people kept arguing with you even after you started claiming “maximum agreement”? That would be a hint that nobody here was particularly concerned about getting you to bend to their opinions. Your points of disagreement were mainly nitpicky little things, which of course are perfectly valid to bring up, since it is still important to be accurate in the details. However, the way you did it came off as aggressive (like, GOTCHA!), and what’s more, even when the points were “settled,” it seemed you didn’t really understand what they were about (notice the point here is that you UNDERSTAND, not necessarily agree—because even when you voiced agreement, people still were not convinced that you understood, and kept confronting you). Maybe you didn’t mean to be aggressive, maybe you really do understand, but that is how it came off. And frankly, I still think you don’t get it, even if you mean well.
    And regarding your “position”: it is fairly bizarre of you to assume that people here think you don’t take a position on ANYTHING. But since you were voicing disagreement with us on a PARTICULAR subject (how to treat knowledge claims regarding the existence of God, and what conclusions to draw regarding the likelihood of God’s existence), it was not wrongheaded of us to assume that you DID have a position that you thought was better than ours. And we would have liked to hear it, so that we could either tell you why you’re wrong, or go, “huh, I never thought about it that way” and maybe learn something new. Since you refused to do this, we were left to assume you were a “militant agnostic” (“I don’t know, and you don’t either!” as the bumpersticker says. The reason why atheists find this annoying is they DON’T claim to know with 100% certainty that God does not exist, only that there is far better reason to disbelieve in God than to believe). Or at least, that’s what I assumed, and your comments so far support my assessment: claiming the rational high ground for being “non-partisan” is pretty diagnostic. If that is indeed your position—well, that’s STILL a position. And if it’s not—well, please correct me.

  46. says

    @ Spacesocks,
    I mean really, it’s all pretty simple. Greta argued that believers say God works in the real world. Therefore, God is subject to apprehension via the scientific method, and we should be able to obtain evidence of God’s activity in the world. A supporting argument of hers was that the religious method of obtaining knowledge about the real world has a history of failure, thus strengthening the claim that the scientific approach is the best means of apprehending God.
    That was the argument as I understood it, and it’s still my OPINION that it’s a weak argument. But if I’m missing something in my actual understanding, clue me in.

  47. Kagehi says

    Hmm. How would you a) make it a stronger argument, or b) what would be a, even weak, argument for any other method. The problem isn’t just that the science is the best method argument is considered strong, it is that the argument that some “other” method may exist is pretty much non-existent. The argument that there is some other way to examine stuff is a) not supported by history, b) not supported by neuroscience, c) not supported by basic command sense, as held by anyone who has ever compared anecdotal and personal “experiences” with evidence, and d) there is no valid or subjective way, at all, to differentiate between revelations, delusions, brain washing, wishful thinking, bad dreams due to reading/watching something the day before, or just temporary hallucinations, due to everything from eating the wrong mushrooms to not drinking enough water. Mind you, **if** you get a chance to run scientific tests you can “usually” tell if any and all of those things are caused by *verifiable* neurological disturbances. That you can’t test everyone, never mind everyone **as** they have the experience, doesn’t mean that the weight of evidence isn’t like 98% in favor of it “not” having actually been a religious experience, and therefor, by definition, pretty much useless as a way of verifying the central claim.
    Let me put it this, its one thing to propose one “look for” something like a pink and purple duck, its another to suggest that the only way to “find” such things is to wear a fedora hat and ride backwards, on a tricycle, on the grounds that this is the only way to “detect” one. You can’t prove the “solution” without finding the “object” of that solution first.
    This is not a problem if you are looking for something like Top or Strange quarks, etc., where you ***have*** mathematical models that suggested they should actually exist *before* applying the solution to find them. We don’t even have that much when dealing with gods. So, one random “hypothesis” on how to “find” one is as good as the *existing* one(s), which have already failed. Only, the religious insist that the best way to look is “still” the same way they have been trying since some dude got asked why rain fell, told the other dude, “I will think about it”, and the next morning said, “I had a prophetic dream about a spirit of the rains that cries tears as it morns the loss of some whatsit or other.”, or one of a myriad of other dream induced or purely made up explanations.
    It didn’t work then, it doesn’t work now, and if you *want* there to be some other method of finding truths, it false on you, making the assertion that such a thing must exist, to come up with something that **does** work, not argue that you don’t like what does, since you feel it isn’t good enough for some things, and therefor their *must* be one.

  48. Kagehi says

    Gah. Please ignore the word errors in that. Its 12:30 AM here and I should have gone to bed already. lol

  49. says

    @ Kagehi,
    It seems we agree and that your own words in part support my claim. What you write here reads almost verbatim to a comment I made earlier:
    “Let me put it this, its one thing to propose one “look for” something like a pink and purple duck, its another to suggest that the only way to “find” such things is to wear a fedora hat and ride backwards, on a tricycle, on the grounds that this is the only way to “detect” one. You can’t prove the “solution” without finding the “object” of that solution first. This is not a problem if you are looking for something like Top or Strange quarks, etc., where you ***have*** mathematical models that suggested they should actually exist *before* applying the solution to find them. We don’t even have that much when dealing with gods.”
    That was exactly my point. Since for the proposition of gods we don’t even have that much, in my opinion no science can begin, and claiming the scientific method as the best means of verifying the God hypothesis has no basis in the absence of some form of evidence to prompt investigation in the first place. Before science can begin we need some kind of hard evidence, even if it’s only a mathematical model as you suggest.
    Spot-on here, whether we’re in full agreement elsewhere or not.

  50. Kagehi says

    Hmm. Then I suppose the only matter of contention is, “Why, if there is no means to evaluate the premise, should one *also* presume that the premise *should be* evaluated in the first place, in comparison to millions of other entirely baseless assertions from the past?” Is the mere fact that a lot of people came up with silly explanations that “invariably” involved something like themselves, but more powerful, *really* a sufficient reason to presume that there is anything to examine at all? If so, why, as compared to Eastern Kami, Australian “dream time”, South American claims of flying serpent gods and/or leopard gods, rain forest tribes assertion that spirits control the world, or for that matter, the almost universal insistence of everyone younger than a certain age that monsters hide under their bed, or in their closets?
    What ***precisely***, other than useless numbers of people that persist in its belief, makes the god hypothesis, never mind any “specific” one, worth examining, with or without a “scientific” approach?
    And, having answered that, I also have to wonder, is not collection of an abundance of evidence that implies the lack of evidence, improbability of, and general absurdity of the concept, basically science anyway? Why not? Because it would appear to be trying to prove a negative, while in actuality simply stating, “This is a likely negative, due to the hundreds of **positive** possibilities we can, have and continue to find which better explain these things”?
    I think you are still missing a key point here. Science isn’t trying to disprove or “test” for god, its testing for thousands of other things that it “does” have evidence for, then stating, simply and directly, “There isn’t really any room for this ‘other’ hypothesis, which isn’t *better* explained by existing things.” Its unclear how science can’t test it, at least indirectly, short of *starting* with the rather silly presumptions that a) there is something to test in the first place, and b) somehow there, therefor, needs to be some “other” means to test it, both in defiance of not only the positive evidence for better, (if sometimes emotionally unsatisfying explanations), and the infinite number of other equally baseless hypothesis that one could come up with, for which there is also no way to test them, and no grounds to presume there is anything **to** test.

  51. says

    @ Kagehi,
    Good questions.
    You write, “Why, if there is no means to evaluate the premise, should one *also* presume that the premise *should be* evaluated in the first place, in comparison to millions of other entirely baseless assertions from the past?”
    I don’t think the existence of God is falsifiable so I would never recommend evaluating the existence of God scientifically. I’m not presuming anyone should evaluate the God hypothesis unless of course they are so inspired.
    You ask, “What ***precisely***, other than useless numbers of people that persist in its belief, makes the god hypothesis…worth examining?”
    This seems corollary to your first question and again, I don’t think the existence of God is falsifiable, so I don’t think it’s worth examining scientifically. As for what might make any God hypothesis worth examining, that’s a matter of opinion entirely. Some people think the possibility of eternal separation from God is good grounds for investigating the idea; others disagree. Again, these are matters of opinion, not science.
    You ask, “I also have to wonder, is not collection of an abundance of evidence that implies the lack of evidence, improbability of, and general absurdity of the concept, basically science anyway?” Collection of evidence is indeed science, but what that evidence implies is a matter of conjecture entirely, unless of course said implication is falsifiable.
    You and Spacesocks say I’m still missing a key point… So what key point am I missing here?

  52. Spacesocks says

    OK, cl, I’ll try to spell out the points I think you’re missing.
    First of all, the word “God” does not correspond to a single concept, but to a mind-boggling array of different concepts. Some of them are not falsifiable (for instance, many pantheistic concepts of God); others ARE falsifiable, at least in principle. The “God hypothesis” is a pretty fair representation of the God that is worshipped by Western monotheists (and by that I mean the rank and file believers; many theologians think the “God” of the “God hypothesis” is a caricature, and get irritated at atheists for attacking it; in my view, if they feel this way, they should tell it to the rank-and-file believers). Here’s the thing: the “God hypothesis” makes concrete, verifiable predictions about how the deity it postulates operates in the world. The world is not consistent with these predictions. Therefore, we stick with the “null hypothesis”: atheism. The God of the God hypothesis does not exist. It is a falsifiable God, and also happens to be false. (I don’t mean, of course, that it has been shown to be absolutely false; but since belief in it cannot be justified, but only rationalized, we can be certain for all practical purposes that it is false. Some people who believe in this God may think it is unfalsifiable, and claim this as a point in its favor, but it is only “unfalsifiable” to them because they would never give it up even if it ever were falsified).
    Now, just because we have refuted the God hypothesis, does not mean that all possible versions of God are ruled out. (you can’t prove a null hypothesis; you can only rule out positive hypotheses).
    It does not rule out unfalsifiable Gods. But such Gods, in order to be truly unfalsifiable, must have NO OBSERVABLE EFFECT on the workings of the universe that cannot be accounted for by natural phenomena. They are the “dragon in the garage” (I think someone brought this up earlier—it’s from Carl Sagan’s book “The Demon-Haunted World”). It’s true that you can’t “prove” that they don’t exist…but that is most certainly not a point in their favor, because it actually means that even if they DO exist, they might as well not exist.
    One version of God that I do think is defensible is that of an imaginary God; this is a God that can only be known through subjective means of “verification.” I get irritated when atheists make fun of religious people for having an “imaginary friend”; in my opinion, the problem is not that they have an imaginary friend, but that they won’t let themselves admit that he IS imaginary.
    So, to summarize: the word “God” stands for both falsifiable and unfalsifiable deities. Greta has argued (very convincingly) that a certain falsifiable version of God is, in fact, false.
    You seem to be stuck on the idea that God is inherently unfalsifiable. But, as I said, there are both falsifiable and unfalsifiable versions of God. The former have a strong tendency to be shown to be false; the latter might as well be false. (if you think I’m wrong to say they might as well be false, please tell me why).
    This leads into other points you missed. For example, operating under the assumption that all possible Gods are unfalsifiable, you kept hammering away at Greta’s quote on “faith” from November.
    When she “recanted,” you missed the point that she only used the word “recant” to get you to stop throwing an out-of-context quote at her. You were using this quote aggressively, to needle Greta into admitting that she actually thinks that all possible Gods are unfalsifiable and therefore not subject to empirical verification, which would invalidate her entire argument in this post. Given the substance of her post, she couldn’t possibly think this now, even if she used to, so it was absurd of you to keep trying to go “gotcha” on her.
    Also, you miss the point about debate etiquette. You do really annoying things like thanking people for commenting (which is patronizing enough when people do it on their own blogs), claiming to be “non-partisan” (as if this makes you more reasonable than people who are willing to state opinions and defend them), and acting persecuted. Also, you refuse to tell us what you really think about the issue at hand:
    Do you think we should seriously entertain the possibility of God’s existence despite its failure as a scientifically-framed hypothesis? If so, why, and what means should we employ to evaluate the question?

  53. says

    @ Spacesocks,
    First, that different people define God differently is not a point I missed, Spacesocks. So when you write, “…there are both falsifiable and unfalsifiable versions of God,” and also that some of these versions are “…falsifiable (at least in principle),” I know this, and you erect a strawman. And besides, do you mean to imply that a position between falsifiability and unfalsifiability exists? Because to me falsifiability is Boolean.
    Second, the God I’m questioning is a being. If the God you’re questioning is not a being, but a “a mind-boggling array of different concepts,” then we’re questioning two different things and have no need for further discourse. The being I question is not falsifiable, and contrary to your charge, I view this lack of falsifiability as an annoying frustration, not a point in its favor. If the being I question would just incontrovertibly manifest to humanity, it’d be alot easier for people to make up their minds. Wouldn’t you agree?
    Third, you say the world is not consistent with the rank-and-file predictions of the God hypothesis. That’s your opinion and your entitlement to it is part of the reason we pay taxes. But before I can give you my opinion as to whether the world is consistent with the predictions of any God, I must know what those predictions are. I don’t know which predictions you envision in particular, so I can’t respond to you in an appropriate context here. If you’d like to respond with a list of concrete, verifiable predictions, perhaps I can clarify. Even assuming the standard Judeo-Christian God, when I look around I see a satisfying amount of said God’s standard predictions met. That’s not a fact of course, just my observation, and it certainly doesn’t mean I worship it. You say, “The world is not consistent with these predictions.” Well, okay…that’s your interpretation of the facts, not a fact itself. Your opinion, however beloved to you, doesn’t mean you’ve successfully refuted the God I question; it might mean you’ve successfully refuted “the God hypothesis” you question.
    Fourth, you say, “…Gods, in order to be truly unfalsifiable, must have NO OBSERVABLE EFFECT on the workings of the universe that cannot be accounted for by natural phenomena.” I take issue with this. “Natural” is just a construct we use to describe physical phenomena. In this sentence you strip the idea of God from natural phenomena a priori. The word “natural” is not synonymous with “godless.” Any reasonable theist who argues that natural phenomena are in fact observable effects of God has no need to apologize to charges of unfalsifiability.
    Fifth, when noting falsifiable and unfalsifiable versions of God you say, “The former have a strong tendency to be shown to be false; the latter might as well be false.” I think you’re unjustified logically to prematurely conclude that the latter might as well be false, because unfalsifiability of a proposition in no way demands said proposition’s falsity. You repeat this earlier when, presumably talking about demons, you write: “It’s true that you can’t “prove” that they don’t exist…but that is most certainly not a point in their favor, because it actually means that even if they DO exist, they might as well not exist.” How so? Now I might be mistaken here, but you appear to be saying that demons are not falsifiable. If so, how does their unfalsifiability imply they might as well not exist? Why might unfalsifiable versions of God as well be false? Are you saying that in order for something to have any affect on your life, it must be falsifiable? Are you saying that the provability of a proposition is the measure of that proposition’s ability to affect your life?
    Sixth, I have beliefs, but I am non-partisan, and that choice doesn’t make me any better or any less prone to partisan errors than anyone else. I have strong opinions, and am more than willing to defend them, and the insinuations to the contrary in the presence of admonishment over etiquette continues to amuse and entertain. Speaking of etiquette, I take very seriously what you, Greta or anyone else has to say, and I’ll question my own actions.
    And lastly, you write, “Also, you refuse to tell us what you really think about the issue at hand…” I disagree. For me, the original issue at hand was whether there was any contradiction between two of Greta’s statements, a question whose answer the spiritual alignment of the involved parties has absolutely no bearing upon.
    Finally, you ask, “Do you think we should seriously entertain the possibility of God’s existence despite its failure as a scientifically-framed hypothesis? If so, why, and what means should we employ to evaluate the question?” Well, that answer depends on questions only you can answer for yourself. I think if the possibility of eternal separation from God is something one might wish to avoid, then one might be justified in seriously entertaining the possibility of God’s existence whether they think God has failed as a scientifically-framed hypothesis or not. Contrary, if the possibility of eternal separation from God is not a big deal to one, then I’d say one has no reason to pursue the matter at all.
    And should one declare the pursuit worthy, the means one should employ to evaluate the question will likely be as unique and diverse as one’s path to reverence of the question in the first place.

  54. Kagehi says

    “Contrary, if the possibility of eternal separation from God is not a big deal to one, then I’d say one has no reason to pursue the matter at all.”
    Seriously, you don’t *at all* notice that this is precisely the same sort of strange logic a gambler might apply, despite are reasonable grounds to discount it, to the hypothesis, “If I just buy one more Lotto ticket it ‘will’ be the winner!” All you are stating is that for something deluded by the proposition that there *is* something to be separated from, the entirely self defined concept of what that means, and if it means anything at all, is “meaningful to them”. Well, so is **every** sort of delusion, hallucination, schizophrenic certainty about the world, and/or obsessive compulsive disorder. You have, in a single stroke, rendered your unfalsifiable god as *identical* to mental illness.

  55. Spacesocks says

    CL,
    I did NOT erect a strawman of your position. I tried to give an honest assessment of the points I thought you were missing. If you weren’t actually missing those points, then fine. I didn’t actually say I knew for sure that you were missing them. Notice I said, “the points I THINK you’re missing.”
    “If the God you’re questioning is not a being, but a “a mind-boggling array of different concepts,” then we’re questioning two different things…”
    The God I’m questioning is ONE OF THESE CONCEPTS. I dismiss a few others in my comment, but only one is my main target.
    The God hypothesis I’m referring to is the one Greta discusses in this article. Atheists target it because it is a common conception of God and because it is also patently false.
    The “predictions” of this hypothesis include “prayers visibly answered” and “followers of one religion doing visibly better than followers of every other religion” (Greta). (Obviously, not every God hypothesis makes these predictions, even the ones that are in-principle falsifiable.) There are people who actually claim that their prayers have been answered; for example, God curing them of cancer. We can investigate these claims by seeing whether people who are prayed for do any better than would be predicted by chance (and then we would rigorously scrutinize the methodology of any such study).
    “The being I question is not falsifiable, and contrary to your charge, I view this lack of falsifiability as an annoying frustration, not a point in its favor. If the being I question would just incontrovertibly manifest to humanity, it’d be alot easier for people to make up their minds. Wouldn’t you agree?”
    Yeah, I agree. But there actually are claims of this being manifesting itself to humanity; they just don’t hold any more merit than claims of telepathy, etc. Obviously when you call the claimants of such phenomena on that issue, they’ll say, “you just can’t see it because of your narrow scientific worldview” or “it isn’t working this time because your skepticism is sending off bad vibes.” Such dodges, in my view, are rationalizations; they do not justify belief in such phenomena. They might render the hypothesis “unfalsifiable,” but it isn’t really unfalsifiable in principle; the unfalsifiability has been brought in as a dodge in this case.
    One thing: When I say unfalsifiability is not a point in favor of such a being, I’m not talking about the character of the deity itself, I’m talking about grounds for reasonable belief in a deity. Just to clarify. You will probably accuse me of strawmanning you again, but you do say “I view this lack of falsifiability as an annoying frustration,” as if you actually expect this God to manifest itself, and are frustrated that it hasn’t. Once again, not trying to strawman you, just trying to clarify. Do you think unfalsifiablity is a point in favor of BELIEF in a God, or a point against it, or neither? Because I would say it’s a point against it.
    I wasn’t actually talking about demons, I was talking about invisible, incorporeal, heatless-fire-breathing dragons living in Carl Sagan’s garage. He used this as an example of an unfalsifiable proposition. The point was that there’s no practical difference between an invisible, incorporeal, heatless-fire-breathing dragon, and no dragon at all. That chapter was what got me over the whole “God is unfalsifiable” issue.
    “I take issue with this. “Natural” is just a construct we use to describe physical phenomena. In this sentence you strip the idea of God from natural phenomena a priori.”
    I didn’t mean to. I think if “supernatural” phenomena were found to be real, we would just redefine them as natural. Which I guess is the whole point of trying to attack the God hypothesis.
    Most adherents of the God of the God hypothesis do indeed say that God operates through natural laws or set them up. If it stops there, they’re deists, and don’t actually worship the God of the God hypothesis. Deism is unfalsifiable, but I don’t care that much about debunking it.
    A God that causes miracles, however, is one that manipulates the laws of nature on a macro scale. We would only be able to detect these miracles insofar as they became apparent to us through natural laws, but they would be really bizarre manifestations of the natural laws we thought we understood. Of course, then we’d have to investigate the “miraculous” phenomenon and what was causing it. If we found out it was an omnipotent being, well, then, there’s your God.
    “I think if the possibility of eternal separation from God is something one might wish to avoid, then one might be justified in seriously entertaining the possibility of God’s existence whether they think God has failed as a scientifically-framed hypothesis or not. Contrary, if the possibility of eternal separation from God is not a big deal to one, then I’d say one has no reason to pursue the matter at all.”
    That’s fair enough. I personally am less judgmental about people who believe in God than certain other atheists. Have you read any William James (The Will to Believe, etc.)? I think people who want to entertain the possibility of God’s existence have every right to do so. If it works for them, then great, as long as they know the difference between objective evidence and whatever subjective benefits they get from entertaining said possibility. And as long as they entertain the possibility non-dogmatically—that is, if they are also capable of entertaining the possibility that God does NOT exist, and are capable of updating their worldview if another turns out to fit their life better. The religions I am against are the ones that engage in brainwashing and those which muddle thinking in the interest of maintaining the “faith” of their followers. I don’t actually think that all religions do this, but it’s very common.

  56. says

    @ Kagehi,
    Yes, I do “notice that this is precisely the same sort of strange logic a gambler might apply.” That’s a perfect analogy.
    “You have, in a single stroke, rendered your unfalsifiable god as *identical* to mental illness.” Okay, you’re entitled to that.

  57. says

    @ Spacesocks,
    I recant my strawman comment. Not of appeasement either. It seriously seemed like you were trying to tell me what I was missing, which is essentially telling your opponent what they’re arguing. My apology.
    In the context of the God hypothesis, you write, “We can investigate these claims by seeing whether people who are prayed for do any better than would be predicted by chance (and then we would rigorously scrutinize the methodology of any such study).” I agree. You can. But the pursuit itself is worthless and not science. Rigorously scrutinizing any study does nothing if the study is not authentically scientific. Although I see the logic, it overlooks several things, first of which is that you seem to be endorsing the scientific validity of the “science proves prayer” argument. I feel anyone who proposes that a truly scientific study of prayer exists is not proposing science.
    The claims of individual believers who say they’ve experienced miracle X themselves are not falsifiable because they represent singular, disparate occurrences not inaccurately described as absolutely freakish material intrusions into space-time. Now I can’t speak for the God hypothesis you’ve refuted, but, to revert to the classic example of the Judeo-Christian God of scripture, the miracles purported were **supernatural occurrences, which by default lack the privileges of reproducibility and confirmation via independent reasoning. Now one might cite Jesus’ admonition to followers that they would “do even greater things than He” as support for the idea that miraculous occurrences can be reproduced; any degree of truth notwithstanding, to argue such is to depart from the scientific criteria surrounding reproducibility, among other things. Also note the utter impossibility of securing an authentic control group of believers. All mature believers I debate with laugh at such studies. How does one confirm religious belief? Isn’t the unilateral claim of atheism that faith is inherently subjective in the first place? One might be correct in saying that the believers chosen for the control group gave a profession of faith. But I thought science can’t accept just-so stories, of which professions of faith most certainly qualify? Seriously, can anyone out there tell me the scientific criteria for belief, when the Bible itself seems to say that of sheep who say “Lord, Lord” not all are of the same pen? Then by what special pleading might anyone accept the results of a study that does not rest firmly on a foundation of indisputable, empirical data, i.e., a subjective, pseudoscientific study?
    **(I’m aware many progressives and Aquarians might take issue with my a priori ascription of ‘supernatural’ to miracles. I myself often argue the issue.)
    In the context of manifestation claims, you write, “they just don’t hold any more merit than claims of telepathy.” I disagree. I think claims for telepathy are FAR more scientifically acceptable than manifestation-of-gods claims. But that’s just my opinion and to argue it further might be thread drift.
    Now I agree with you squarely when you note that “rationalizations” and dodges do not justify belief.
    And no strawman here, I understood you perfectly: “Do you think unfalsifiablity is a point in favor of BELIEF in a God, or a point against it, or neither? Because I would say it’s a point against it.” I would say it’s annoyingly frustrating just as I said, but practically neutral. I don’t consider it a point for it because I don’t see how unfalsifiability can be an empirical benefit to anything except a God who’s testing faith. And I don’t consider it a definitive point against belief itself because the horizon-line of empiricism, like life itself, is ever-expanding. Folks who didn’t believe Hubble were wrong. To clarify my original statement, I do consider unfalsifiability a point against effective persuasion.
    Now when the demon thing was clarified, you dissolved part of my previous comment. You write, “The point was that there’s no practical difference between an invisible, incorporeal, heatless-fire-breathing dragon, and no dragon at all.” Stated as such, I agree. What changes everything is the inclusion of the determiner, ‘practical difference.’ If by practical difference you mean amenability to empiricism and not potential to affect one’s life, then by all means I agree with you.
    Your closing paragraph was good, I’ll check out James.
    Lastly, you wrote, “Deism is unfalsifiable, but I don’t care that much about debunking it…” Understood. Deists aren’t typically fighting Trojan Horse battles and that is the ground many a modern intellectual typically stands upon when confronting organized religion.

  58. Spacesocks says

    Kagehi, please don’t bring up the old mental illness accusation. Theists are, in general, no crazier than atheists, so if it’s crazy to believe in God, it’s fairly normal human craziness. Everybody is prone to irrational thinking, it’s just that atheists disbelieve in one particular irrational thing. An individual atheist might have more irrational beliefs, on balance, than an individual theist.
    OK cl, I wrote the first half of this before your reply to my last comment showed up, so I’ll get to that, too.
    The “strange logic a gambler might apply”…you know that’s a form of Pascal’s Wager, right? Which atheists consider possibly the worst argument ever for belief in God? The way you phrase it is not as bad as the original (“believe in God and be saved, disbelieve and be damned; place your bets accordingly”), but you do realize, don’t you, that the Wager in any form cannot assign relative weights to the LIKELIHOOD of either proposition, just a spurious (from our perspective) reward and punishment?
    Your (modified) use of the Wager was what made me think you’d read William James; he denounces Pascal’s Wager, but argues that it would be reasonable to pursue a “religious hypothesis” if you think it would have good outcomes for you. But the expectation is that these outcomes will be verifiable/falsifiable.
    I’ve read “The Will to Believe” and excerpts from “Pragmatism and the Meaning of Truth” and “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” I don’t agree with James 100%, but in my opinion he makes some of the most honest arguments for the “reasonableness” of religious belief out there.
    So, if you think it’s a real possibility that God exists, and you don’t want to be “eternally separated” from him, then by all means, entertain that possibility and see where it takes you (but of course, proceed with caution!) If you see it as what James would call a “live hypothesis,” it is fair game to explore. For us, though, it’s a thoroughly dead hypothesis, and it would not be possible for us to choose to pursue it (except for the sake of argument), any more than it would be possible for you to be swayed by the prospect of eternal separation from the flying spaghetti monster.
    Your gambler’s logic presupposes the existence of a god (or at least that the existence of God is a “live hypothesis”), and furthermore it presupposes a certain kind of God, i.e., one that it is possible to be separated from based on whether or not you cultivate some kind of relationship or belief in him. Not all possible gods are like that, or even all religious “salvations” and “damnations” either! (it also presupposes the “live” possibility of eternal existence, which most people here would also dismiss).
    Atheists such as ourselves will refuse to give credence to any form of Pascal’s Wager until it is demonstrated to us that the existence of such a God is a decent possibility in the first place. If that ever happens, we will then be willing to reflect on whether it would be in our best interest to pursue unity with or separation from said entity.
    On to your reply:
    The mature believers who laugh at prayer studies—they generally don’t make the claim that prayer has objectively verifiable effects, do they? I generally assume that a “mature” attitude toward prayer means thinking prayer may be beneficial as a kind of meditative technique, but not as a form of magic powers with an effect on observable reality.
    I think a more unilateral claim of atheism is that IF faith is subjective in the first place, then it cannot be used as support for statements that are supposed to be objective facts.
    There are plenty of mature religious believers (really, the super-mature ones, not just the regular mature ones) who say that “existence” is an attribute that cannot properly be assigned to God; for example, my philosophy of religion professor, a liberal Christian. The post-theistic theologian Paul Tillich, in his book “Dynamics of Faith,” wrote that “a divine being does not exist.” Such Gods only exist subjectively, and I think that’s totally fine, but only a really mature religious person would be willing to profess faith in a God that they know does not exist in objective reality.
    Your point about unfalsifiablity being practically neutral with regard to the likelihood of something being true or not is interesting in light of William James and the “live”/”dead” hypotheses thing, which made me rethink what I said about unfalsifiablity being a point against belief in something.
    For example, I consider the possibility of parallel universes to be more likely than the possibility of God’s existence, even though both propositions (conceived broadly) are unfalsifiable. I guess it’s because, form where I sit, the question of God’s existence has been investigated to death, whereas in the case of parallel universes, the possibility is still open that someone might be able to test it, and there has been some promising work done in that direction. All the same, there isn’t any convincing evidence that either proposition (parallel universes or God) is real, so I’m not going to say I believe in either one, or even lay any bets on either one. I’m better convinced that there is no God, and that this is the only universe there is. So I think that the prospect that an idea MIGHT prove falsifiable is a point in favor of an unfalsifiable proposition. An idea that’s defined as unfalsifiable even in principle is garbage as far as I’m concerned. And a technically falsifiable God that seems to have been effectively debunked, and is now justified only by the flimsiest of rationalizations? Also garbage.

  59. says

    (sorry if this comment posts twice)
    @ Spacesocks,
    Right on. Thank you for appreciating whatever I said about “unfalsifiablity being practically neutral.” Makes me want to check out James even more now!
    However, I feel you and Kagehi have gotten a wee tad out of line. Why?
    IF-THEN statments are NOT arguments for God.
    Here’s the definition of Pascal’s Wager: “…suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should “wager” as though God exists.”
    The exact words of mine that are being twisted into a “modified use of Pascal’s Wager” were, “I think if the possibility of eternal separation from God is something one might wish to avoid, then one might be justified in seriously entertaining the possibility of God’s existence whether they think God has failed as a scientifically-framed hypothesis or not. Contrary, if the possibility of eternal separation from God is not a big deal to one, then I’d say one has no reason to pursue the matter at all.”
    In your closing question a few comments ago, you asked me under what grounds I felt one might be justified in pursuing the question of God. That was the context I responded under. Folks, this clearly IS NOT Pascal’s Wager. It’s a neutral if-then statement that favors no particular outcome. Pascal’s Wager urges that the person it is wagered upon make a choice for God; as you properly noted, Spacesocks, Pascal’s Wager is an “argument for God.” The wager is an argument for God, in YOUR OWN WORDS. Pascal’s Wager says one better pursue the question and decide in the affirmative. cl says, “if the matter is important to one, one might be justified to pursue it.” The former statement appeals to a specific end, the latter statement aims to persuade no particular point.
    Thus, you and Kagehi have incorrectly framed a singular statement of mine as being a modification of Pascal’s Wager. Either one of you could have asked me if this is what I was in fact arguing, but since you both assumed incorrectly without asking, I had to defend myself.
    I don’t have much to say about anything else in your last comment, though.

  60. Spacesocks says

    It’s not that I thought you were trying to convert us or anything, CL. My point was that it has the Pascal’s Wager ring to it. I have more patience for Jamesian versions of it, which seems to be how you used it. I recognize you intended it as an if-then, not a manipulative bad argument.

  61. says

    Well, okay..either way I enjoyed your critiques and found them profitable. Thank you, I hope the exchanges might have shed a little more light on where I’m coming from. Stop by any time..

  62. Alan says

    I came upon this post via a link in AlterNet, and even though the thread is over two years old, I feel a need to contribute to the discussion.
    The assertion that there are subjective ways of knowing God which bypass the need for empiric observations and logic merely pushes the ultimate question one step into the distance, but does not avoid the necessity of having to answer it. For how else can one verify an alternative way of knowing God without proving that God does, indeed, exist? Without such proof, the subjective “knowledge” of God’s existence is nothing more than an individual’s interior feeling about the objective universe. Yes, the feeling is absolutely real, but its validity regarding an objective God in the objective universe rests upon objective proof that God exists. In other words, the “other kind of knowing” argument is nothing more than a variation of the good old fashioned leap of faith. Never mentioned, of course, is the self evident truth that If something were really known, no such leap would be necessary.
    The situation is not unlike that which pertains to the question of the origin of the universe. Religious believers routinely insist that the universe had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere must be the hand of God. Which, of course, begs the question, where did God come from? Does not the same chain of cause and effect apply to him as well? In effect, the question of ultimate origins has been pushed one step away but remains unanswered.

  63. Fentex says

    You make an argument that it would be aesthetically pleasing for some to believe in a god they like but no argument that there is one.
    You or I may differ over the quality of a painting but we likely wouldn’t differ over the fact of it’s existence in front of us.
    And just as you may be pleased to believe in a god you like I suspect you’d be unhappy to believe in a god you didn’t like.
    Your aesthetic judgement may discard that god as I disregard your opinion of the painting I do not like.
    The issue of proof of god is to discern if any god, whether one is pleased or displeased to be shown, exists, not to assert how one feels about the idea.

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