Can Atheism Be Proven Wrong?


Theres probably no god Is there any possible evidence that would persuade atheists out of our atheism?

And if not — does that make our atheism close-minded and dogmatic?

There’s been an interesting debate lately in the atheist blogosphere. (The media will no doubt point to it as a sign of a terrible schism in the so-called New Atheist movement; but really, it’s been a very friendly and civil conversation so far, among people who are fundamentally allies.) The debate revolves around whether there’s any possible evidence that could convince atheists to change their minds… and if not, whether that makes their atheism an unshakable article of faith rather than a reasonable, evidence-based conclusion.

PZ Myers, of the famed Pharyngula blog (almost certainly the most widely-read of all atheist blogs), recently asserted that he had made up his mind. The case for atheism was just too devastating, and at this point, no possible evidence could ever convince him that any religion was correct. Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution Is True, the book and the blog) has expressed strong disagreement. He thinks atheism is falsifiable — and he thinks that it should be. If there is no possible evidence that would convince us God was real, he argues, not even the most wildly ludicrous hypothetical chain of events you could dream up, then atheists really would be just as close-minded as believers claim. The debate between Coyne and Myers has extended its tendrils throughout the atheist blogosphere… so I’m getting in on the action.

I’ve written at length about how atheism is, and should be, falsifiable. I’ve even gone out on a limb, in this very publication, about what exact evidence would persuade me that God was real. And after reading Myers and Coyne and a whole lot of other atheists in this debate, and after thinking about it at some length, I’ve reached two conclusions:

1) I don’t agree with PZ.

2) I think PZ makes some seriously important points.

I don’t ultimately agree with him, but the questions he raises are making me re-think my position on this question.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Can Atheism Be Proven Wrong? To find out where I stand in the Myers/ Coyne debate — and how I’ve re-thought my position on what religion would have to do to prove atheism wrong — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. cag says

    The chance that theism is true is of the order of the size of the period at the end of this sentence to the size of the universe. When the odds are 1 in infinity, the difference between one and zero is not significant. My impression from PZ is that at some point the possibility of any gods is so remote as to be insignificant. I’m not prepared to throw the theists a Cheerio when an anchor will do. Gods weren’t, aren’t and wont be. Sophisticated arguments will not create any gods, apologetics cannot create gods. Only human minds can create gods, and thousands have been created, only to be assigned to the dust bin of absurd ideas.
    The human mind can also conjure up pink unicorns. We accept that the mind is capable of generating impossible ideas, gods being among them.
    AS I see it, the difference between you and PZ is that PZ is saying “enough is enough”. The goddists have had thousands of years to come up with “proof” and there is nothing there except empty words. Gods cannot be created by words, yet words are all the theists have to offer. I reject their offer.

  2. Nemo says

    I’d settle for anything at all, to start with. In thousands of years, there’s been nothing. We can’t emphasize that point enough — theists can worry about what it would take to convince me after they’ve shown me anything at all. Note: not “argue”, show me. Show me God. He should be bleeding obvious, if he were real.
    Of course it’s painfully apparent that the idea of God was invented by human beings, and it really is hard for me to think of any kind of evidence that couldn’t more plausibly be attributed to something else. So I have a lot of sympathy for PZ’s position. But the thing is… we’re not anywhere near that point. I don’t have to worry about whether the stars being rearranged into a message is an act of God, or of advanced aliens — because nothing remotely like that has ever happened. Instead, the quality of “evidence” I’m presented with is water stains that very vaguely resemble human faces, if you squint.

  3. says

    My impression from PZ is that at some point the possibility of any gods is so remote as to be insignificant.

    cag, I agree with you that, in any practical sense, the possibility is insignificant. But from a philosophical perspective, that possibility, while minuscule, is still important. If we want our atheism to be philosophically defensible and consistent, we need to acknowledge the minuscule possibility.

    I’m not prepared to throw the theists a Cheerio when an anchor will do.

    And this is where I powerfully and passionately disagree with you.
    Making our atheism falsifiable is not throwing theists a bone. It is one of the most powerful weapons against theism in our arsenal. It points up the major difference between atheism and theism: namely, that atheism is based on a reasonable evaluation of the best available evidence, and theism is based on cognitive errors and wishful thinking. When we say, “Hey, show me the evidence for God and I’ll change my mind, here’s the kinds of evidence I’ll take seriously and here’s the kinds of evidence I won’t — what would it take to change your mind?”, it is one of the most effective tools we have in getting people to look seriously at the weak foundation of their religious faith. And when we say, “Nope, my mind is permanently made up, nothing at all could ever possibly change it,” it makes us look just as close-minded as they are.

  4. cag says

    Greta, I appreciate your position, but from where I sit the theist will see any kind of accommodation as weakness of “belief”. Any weakness will be looked upon as a wedge for proselytising. At that point most theist minds will tune out any message and concentrate on “saving” the “infidel”.
    I do see some of your points, and my position may not be as helpful as yours for some theists, especially those who question their theism but are not prepared to go rational. So, like good cop, bad cop, both approaches probably have value, and we should not throw either away.

  5. says

    but from where I sit the theist will see any kind of accommodation as weakness of “belief”.

    I guess I’m not seeing how the falsifiability of atheism is “accommodation.” (It’s certainly the first time I’ve been accused of being accommodationist… :-) )
    Srsly, though — how is it accommodation? In pointing out the falsifiability of atheism, I’m not conceding any points — I’m making it clear that the foundations for atheism and for theism are vastly different, and that the foundation for atheism is stronger.
    And the sort of close-minded theists you’re talking about are going to see weakness no matter what we say or do. If we say our atheism is falsifiable, they’ll call it weak; if we say it’s not falsifiable, they’ll say it’s just like religious faith.

  6. Eclectic says

    cag: I have to disagree. Is, as Greta was arguing just last post, atheism merely another dogmatic position, or do we actually have reality on our side?
    The whole point is, if some deity exists, especially an omnipotent one, wants us to pay attention, it’s absurdly easy for him/her/it to demonstrate existence.
    Even if you don’t want to talk to me, have you ever warned your faithful followers of an impending disaster? You’d think “God’s chosen people” would derive the tiniest measurable benefit from His affection.
    As it is, I see thousands of splinter groups all claiming to be listening to God’s One True Message and all disagreeing about what exactly He says.
    I do agree with PZ that, having given available evidence a good looking at, I’ve decided I don’t need to search any more. Maybe I’ll run into dramatic new evidence, but I have decided, as a practical matter that the chance of it appearing is so low that I’m not going to worry about it.
    But if I see innocent people start surviving unjust executions or some such, I’m going to start paying attention again.

  7. joanna says

    I can’t even imagine how a supernatural being would be real. Once something is interacting with the universe, no matter in how bizarre a fashion, are the effects not quantifiable and measurable? The idea of a god somehow separate yet affecting the world seems totally divorced from a scientific conception of the universe. Maybe I’m not philosophically sophisticated enough..

  8. says

    Joanna: It’s not that you’re not philosophically sophisticated enough. The question of whether there could even be any such a thing as a “supernatural” entity is a very sophisticated, very valid philosophical question. After all, if something exists… doesn’t that make it natural, by definition? I didn’t address it in this piece, mostly due to space considerations. And I can’t really get into it right now, since it’s 1:30 in the morning and I have a deadline for tomorrow (i.e., later today). But yes, that’s a totally valid question.
    I personally think there could, hypothetically, be something we could reasonably define as a god, something that would not be physical matter or energy in the conventional sense but that would still have consciousness and volition and exert an effect on the physical world. I certainly don’t think there’s a shred of a good reason to think such an entity exists, but I don’t think it’s entirely logically incoherent. But I’m not 100% sure my thinking on that question is solid. And I do think that, if anyone were to make a persuasive case that the god hypothesis is literally and logically 100% impossible and that atheism therefore doesn’t have to be falsifiable, that would be it.

  9. DA says

    Greta, I think you nailed it. I like PZ but you make a pretty airtight case.
    I also agree with Popper, that any hypothesis that could explain how the universe works should be falsifiable. As he pointed out, Marxism and Fruedianism could take any set of results and claim they fit the theory. My atheism, at least, isn’t like that.

  10. DA says

    Also–the alternet comments reminded me– I’ve come to see those who call themselves agnostics as being, almost to a man, far more arrogant than either atheists or religious fundies. It seems like a position expressly designed to make you superior to everyone. “We don’t know 100% one way or the other so you’re stupid for talking about it, I alone am wise enough to stand above the fray”. I have more respect for well-meaning thesists than for those assholes or for the “sophisticated theology” Armstrongites.

  11. says

    Maybe it shouldn’t be up to atheists to devise the test for god(s). After all, atheists are not the ones making the claims. I think it’s a bit like the JREF $1M challenge: it’s up to the claimant to define what it is their god can do and how they intend to test it.
    I think Sagan’s invisible dragon is good analog of this situation. Someone may claim to sincerely believe there is a dragon in their garage. You can go through the exercise of suggesting all the ways you can think of to test this claim and they can responded with explanations of why each test won’t work or won’t prove/disprove anything. Or you can ask them, “What convinced you?”. Then you can evaluate the evidence they are basing their belief on as testable or not. I just don’t see where it is up to us to invent ways to prove the null hypothesis.
    I think we have to be open to the idea that we are willing to be convinced by convincing evidence but somebody first has to define clearly exactly what their claims are. Instead religious claims are designed to be untestable. God is all-powerful except when he isn’t. God is all-knowing except when he isn’t. God is all love and wisdom except when he is jealous and spiteful. As Noam Chomsky says, “I can’t even call myself an ‘atheist’ because it is not at all clear what I’m being asked to deny.”
    Ultimately, even if somebody showed me/us some laws-of-physics-defying, modern-medicine-surpassing, mind-bogglingly jaw-dropping miracle, I think I would still wonder if it wasn’t just a clever trick or advanced technology.

  12. Eclectic says

    Blondin: “I think I would still wonder if it wasn’t just a clever trick or advanced technology.”
    So would I. But if the trickster could do it repeatedly and wanted hymns and burnt offerings, I think the label “god” would do just fine until I figured things out more.
    Having a real god in the world would certainly change things.
    I’m reminded of Stephen Brust’s Vlad Taltos books, where gods show up as speaking characters. In addition to humorous bits (Vlad has to watch his more colourful oaths “by Verra’s tits” and the like while she’s standing next to him), his mortal patron Morrolan quite openly talks about his ambitions to gain the gods’ powers.

  13. Valhar2000 says

    Has anybody checked out the comments at Alternet? Have you read Sisterlauren’s comment? She says she holds Alternet and Greta Christina in particular responsible for her husband raping her: what her reasons are to attribute this blame is more than I could fathom.
    I simply don’t know what to say.

  14. cag says

    In the past I have stated that elimination of all illness, physical or mental, would convince me of the god hypothesis. I have recently come to the conclusion that if there were a god defined with the OMNI attributes there would not be any illnesses to cure. From this I will accept that the atheist position is philosophically falsifiable, while the theist position is just false.

  15. Locutus7 says

    According to an interesting fact about the universe that I came across, Godel’s incompleteness theorem indicates that logically, “proof” is a weaker concept than “true”; such a concept is unsettling for scientists because it means there will always be things that, despite being true, cannot be proven to be true.
    Relating to this topic, we may never be able to “prove” the existence or non-existence of deities to an absolute standard, but I am as convinced that there is no god to the same degree that I am convinced gravity exists.
    My reasons: 1) physical claims in the holy books have been disproven (worldwide flood, prayer, etc.).
    2) 3 omni gods are self-refuting
    3) And on the positive side, the invention of gods by all primitive human tribes as explanatory mechanisms is well understood psychologically per Pascal Boyer, etc. Moreover, we understand the indoctrination process and cognitive biases that religion exploits to maintain its grip.
    Maybe someday we won’t have this debate, just as now we don’t debate the existence of unicorns and whether we can prove there are no unicorns.
    Someday, but not now.

  16. Robyn Slinger says

    I think PZed’s mistake is that, when he imagines being presented with evidence of a ‘god’ of some sort, he starts already thinking of alternative, more likely explanations.
    Whereas Greta’s position, if I understood well, would be that something like an amputee’s limb growing back, would be already crazy enough to count as ‘evidence for’.
    Of course in that case, as PZ suggests, there could be more likely explanations (surgically advanced, sympathetic aliens). Yes there could. And Greta doesn’t appear to suggest that, once an amputee’s limb grows back, everybody should become religious. But at least it would be some sort of evidence in favour of god existence, which could be then tested and examined again like any evidence regarding any other hypothesis.
    In a nutshell, I think PZ’s position is due to the fact that he formulates in advance more likely explanations for whatever it is that would be presented as evidence for religion, whereas Greta would be satisfied that it is *at all* some evidence (ie, anything better than molten cheese on a pizza). Of course that ‘evidence’ should afterwards be properly tested, in particular by trying to see if PZ’s suggestions could be better explanations.
    Is this a fair summary?

  17. Stephen P says

    @Locutus7: it looks like you’ve misunderstood Gödel’s theorem. That applies to axiomatic systems in mathematical logic. It does not apply to science – i.e. to the real world. It is entirely probable that there are questions that science won’t get around to answering – but that’s a matter of “too many interesting questions, not enough time (or money)” not the result of a theorem.

  18. says

    cag:

    I have recently come to the conclusion that if there were a god defined with the OMNI attributes there would not be any illnesses to cure.

    Locutus7:

    3 omni gods are self-refuting

    I think cag and Locutus7 may be making the same error: namely, assuming that the only hypothetical god we’re talking about is the Omnimax god. I actually agree with Locutus7 that the 3-omni god is, in fact, logically impossible. But that’s not the only posible god. My hypothetical malevolent trickster god, for instance, is definitely not all-good, and might not be all-powerful or all-knowing either.
    Again, having one’s atheism be falsifiable doesn’t mean that you have to consider the hypothetical possibility that any particular given religion is true. Just that some hypothetical religion might be true.

  19. Cheshire Cat says

    I’ve been thinking about this question for a while, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my Christian upbringing actually rendered me incapable of believing in God.
    The problem is this: first of all, I’m convinced that the specific God I was brought up to believe in, the 3-omni God, is provably non-existent. (God disappears in a puff of logic, and all that.)
    BUT, secondly, according to my upbringing, any lesser (and theoretically possible) god is not actually a capital-G God. Or rather I should say, not actually the capital-G God.
    So if Greta’s trickster god showed up tomorrow and started demanding fealty, I’d be saying in my head “Okay, so you’re an apparently supernatural being with incredible powers, but you’re not, you know, GOD. I mean, did you personally create the universe? Are you literally infinitely powerful? Do you have literally perfect knowledge about absolutely everything? And are you perfectly good? Clearly not, because that’s logically impossible! Therefore you are not God!”
    (But I’d certainly perform whatever worship-type activities the trickster god required, if that was what it took to avoid getting squished!)
    On a related note, I don’t think the space alien vs god thought experiment requires an either/or conclusion. If Q from Star Trek showed up and started messing with us, I guess “god” would be about as useful a term for him as “alien.” (I mean, in this scenario, a superpowerful being exists and is messing with us — that’s what’s important! The whole “god” vs “alien” question at that point is just theological nitpicking.)

  20. ckitching says

    The problem with this entire argument is that the very first thing you have to do is define “God”. From the fundamentalist Christian god to the multitude of gods in Hinduism to the vague gods of theologists to the disinterested gods of deists and pantheists, there is a great deal of difference between the likelihoods of each.

  21. Fastthumbs says

    Greta wrote:
    “Even if a 900-foot Jesus appeared in the sky tomorrow, healing amputees and unambiguously stating his message in all languages and whatnot…”
    How would you know this supernatural giant is “Jesus”? Every “Jesus” portrait and image in existance (mostly European White Male) is by some artist’s imaginings…

  22. DA says

    themann1086
    Yeah, that comic pretty much nails it.
    I think part of it is that, in American culture, we basically worship the golden mean, so even smart people like John Stewart (for example), reduce everything down to “Both sides must be equally wrong”, as if there are exactly two views on every question and neither could be more accurate than the other. It’s what makes a lot of defacto atheists insult other atheists, and coincidentally what keeps South Park so popular.

  23. Robyn Slinger says

    It’s the same problem with gods as with alternative medicine which has been proved to work. If something ‘supernatural’ demonstrably happens and is being observed in reality, doesn’t that make it ‘natural’?
    So for a ‘god’ definition not to be self-defeating, it shouldn’t be something supernatural – then why call it ‘god’? Giving a culturally overloaded and sensitivity-tickling name to a natural phenomenon won’t be helpful.

  24. Svlad Cjelli says

    Pedantically I add that anyone who created Earth would technically be an extraterrestrial.

  25. jemand says

    I think atheism is a bit like our theories of gravity… in *principle* they could be proved wrong, in some hypothetical self-consistent universe, and atheism of particular types of gods, omnimax gods, are like Newtonian gravity in the macroscopic limit. WAY too much current evidence for our current universe to be one of those hypothetical universes where the theory is falsifiable. Plus, some are logically inconsistent even in their own theory, which means they absolutely couldn’t live in a self consistent reality anywhere.
    I think there is way too much existing evidence and logical contradictions for ANY omnimax god to exist in our world, while it’s hypothetically possible for one to exist, we DON’T live in that universe. Incidentally, omnimax gods are the ones at the center of pretty much all the major popular religions.
    However, not all of them. There are some god constructs out there that I *do* think could be proven, and as such, atheism against them could still be falsifiable in this universe given we don’t have enough evidence against them.
    There are still other god constructs which are *in principle* completely irrelevant to human life, ones which make no action claims, ones which neither care nor interact with our universe in any way. Such claims of necessity can have NO evidence one way or another for them, EVER. As such, an atheism against them isn’t falsifiable in any conceivable universe. HOWEVER, they CANNOT be used as a justification for any kind of actions taken in our universe, and as most people try to build their lives around the truth claims of their religious beliefs, there are very few people who *honestly* believe in these god constructs, however many more try to hide their gods here when someone starts looking.

  26. says

    It is also important to realize that even in science there are certain hypergeneral theories which shade into metaphysics. A large number of these theories aren’t falsifiable; instead we adopt them because they are explanatory, provide unification (consilience), etc. For example, how would one refute automata theory? Similarly, although I regard my atheism as irrefutable, it is in principle revisable or discardable in much the same way that automata theory might be.

  27. says

    Atheism is an opinion, not an hypothesis about the nature of the universe. It is easy to refute and make the opinion invalid by presenting evidence of gods just as a lack of belief in leprechauns is easy to destroy by presenting a little magical Irish fellow who can conjure gold from the air.
    However I really don’t see at all why I should justify my lack of belief in leprechauns. Or dragons, or unicorns, or gods. Those who believe in such things have the onus on them to present their evidence. As a sceptic all I want to do is say that I do not belief that such assertions are justified and present the case as to why they aren’t justified.
    I’m not actually making a claim myself that there are no gods. I’m saying that the claim that there are gods is unjustified. It is also silly.

  28. says

    I’d still go for “advanced alien” over God, because if god flexed all his superpower muscles there wouldn’t be any explanation (even a hypothetical one) of where god came from or how these powers were acquired. He’d still be the “Ultimate 747″ as Dawkins put it..

  29. says

    ..And with “advanced alien” I mean that in the broadest possible sense, there may be interdimensional aliens capable of trancending what we think of as the universe, and thereby existing effectivly outside it, perhaps even capable of creating it, thereby effectivly being the God of this one, yet they would still require an explanation.

  30. says

    ..And by “effectivly” I mean “effectively” if grammar of what to me, is a foreign language, when talking about things that breaks the laws of physics, mathematics and logic.

  31. says

    SuperAliensDamnit!, I forgot “matters” in my last post. I’m stuck in an infinite loop of stupitity, like God. And like Him, I can’t go back and edit. How ironic.

  32. says

    The point regarding existent religions vs any religion is pretty strong and I don’t think well explored by PZ. I do think that this is easily justified however by one simple observation: We are arguing with people who practice some form of existent Earth religion.
    In the absence of any of those existing religions, this debate wouldn’t exist. In that case any being that showed up and started doing things that we, at our point in scientific development, couldn’t explain, our response would certainly be to deal with that being on it’s terms, whatever they might be.
    However, in our current religious context, every religion would busy itself trying to justify their dogma as relating to this new being or demonizing it. It would seem to me that either of those effects would render the existing religions even less well grounded in the real world and would signal the demise of any Earth religion within a generation or two.
    In effect, such a being would end up being even more evidence that religion as we know it is fundamentally flawed. As such, it is justified to say that the case for current theology is closed. Anything new would be just that and using our current terms, such as God, would be improper or an affectation on this new being’s part.

  33. DSimon says

    “In effect, such a being would end up being even more evidence that religion as we know it is fundamentally flawed.”
    Hold on, you can’t have it both ways. If a lack of a God-like being is evidence against religion (and I agree it is), then the presence of a God-like being has to be evidence for it.
    I agree that it might also be evidence for competing hypotheses (i.e. aliens, hallucinations), but the appearance of a convincingly God-like entity would still increase the amount of probability space the religious hypothesis ought to get.

  34. says

    Hold on, you can’t have it both ways. If a lack of a God-like being is evidence against religion (and I agree it is), then the presence of a God-like being has to be evidence for it.

    But let’s say that some pan-dimensional, omnipotent being appears and claims to be the actual, real, genuine creator of our universe as we know it. Suppose this being also presents some very compelling evidence to support this claim. When questioned this being indicates that all those stories and claims in various holy books and religious writings are total bullshit; the whole universe is just a cosmic housing development in a minor quadrant of the multiverse (or something).
    Would that confirm or disprove God? Would it confirm deism but put an end to religion?

  35. DSimon says

    Would that confirm or disprove God?

    Confirm, I think; the pan-dimensional omnipotent universe-creating being would closely fit what most people think of as God-like.

    Would it confirm deism but put an end to religion?

    It would be a pretty hard hit against those religions with statements that contradicted stuff that was well-known and understood about the pan-dimensional entity. Probably most of the big ones would get hit pretty hard, but maybe a few would survive the filter on luck, having only really vague claims in the first place, or somehow turning to have actually been working on divine revelation and not just making it up like all the others.

  36. dhorvath says

    My point doesn’t have much of anything to do with whether a hyperpowerful, pandimensional being exists. My point is that we are arguing with people who believe that a deity exists and that they already know something about that deity. Their deities are not demonstrably existent, so if humanity encounters a hyperpowerful, pandimensional being I am quite sure that it will not be any of the dieties that humanity claims to worship.
    I would stress that any such encounter will require us to deal with it on its own terms, trying to do so by some ramshackle bodge of our existing religions will be useless. As an analogy, consider whether any competing religion on Earth would exist were one deity demonstrably existent.
    Basically, my claim is that new evidence is going to be something that happens in the future. It will prove the current religions wrong because right now they base their tenets on a tenuous, virtually undetectable relationship with their deities. Meeting a hyper powerful, pan dimensional being won’t prove them right, it will prove them wrong, by being different than any current deity.
    I know this may appear like a shift of the goalposts to some, the point is that trying to have a dialogue about anything that might exist is largely pointless. Believers already know, or at least claim to, what form their deity will take. We shouldn’t be trying to fight that battle and the ‘everything else that could ever exist’ battle at the same time. They are not the same fight.

  37. says

    Richard Dawkins rightly pointed out in “The God Delusion” that beliefs considered “religious” are, like all other claims about reality, not exempt from critical examination (falsification), and only a fideist would claim otherwise. He is wrong that the only alternative to NOMA is that evolution conflicts with any sort of design, however, where he is right implies that atheists who think atheism is not falsifiable (Myers), are ‘implicitly’ fideist.
    Genuine faith/belief is strengthened by evidence and weakened by counter-evidence, so there can be varying degrees of belief/faith/subjective certainty (hence, belief “scale”), but the ‘truth’ of the matter is very black and white (law of non-contradiction). A belief is either true or not true, regardless the amount of evidence you have in favor of it or against it, and regardless how subjectively certain you are or how strongly you believe it, which is why it is better to use “apistic/pistic” on a belief scale, rather than “agnostic/gnostic”.

  38. says

    Genuine faith/belief is strengthened by evidence and weakened by counter-evidence…

    According to whose definition of “belief” and “faith”? Plenty of people encounter evidence contradicting their beliefs/ faiths without it making a dent. In fact, for many faiths and definitions of faith, continuing to believe in the face of contradictory evidence is considered a positive virtue, a sign of a good, strong faith. (Example: The “Biology for Christian Schools” textbook, which states on Page 1 that, “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”) I’m not pulling this out of my ass; this is faith as self-defined by people who say they have it. (More on this in my piece, What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith
    Your argument sounds very much like the No True Scotsman argument: “If your belief/ faith isn’t weakened by contradictory evidence, then it’s not genuine faith.” Why do you get to decide what “genuine” faith is? You can say all you want to that “genuine” faith is weakened by evidence… but that simply is not the case, unless you make it the case in a circular way by defining your terms to make it so.

    A belief is either true or not true, regardless the amount of evidence you have in favor of it or against it,

    But the amount of evidence you have in favor or against a belief — or rather, a conclusion, since as I’ve said before, the word “belief” is confusing and I’m trying to avoid it — is certainly suggestive of whether that conclusion is true. More to the point: It’s the best method we have of telling whether our conclusions are likely to be true, or are likely to be close to the truth. We have no way of knowing with 100% certainty whether our conclusions are true. But we can still make a pretty good educated guess. And we still have other options besides the false dichotomy you keep presenting between either absolute certain knowledge or just guessing.

  39. says

    Plato (also a fallible human like you and me) defined knowledge as justified, true, belief–that means “genuine” belief (knowledge-conducive) must be justified by the evidence, and true by correspondence.
    If anything in the Bible (besides poetry) contradicts logic or reality, it is wrong. Who cares what fideists have to say about that? I’m not one.
    I’m not presenting a false dichotomy. I agree there are varying degrees of certainty (but, not varying degrees of rightness).
    Regarding evidence, click on my name.

  40. says

    Plato (also a fallible human like you and me) defined knowledge as justified, true, belief

    With all due respect to Plato, his epistemology was in the toilet. Once again, since we can’t tell for sure whether the things we think are true, then we have no way to tell whether our “knowledge” is really knowledge or not. This is a circular definition: it says “knowledge is that which is true,” while offering no way of determining what is true.
    And Maryann, I am now going to give you a warning: Your commenting behavior in this blog is verging on trolling. You comment multiple times, only to make the same point again and again and again: that atheism is a belief. And to make this point, you don’t engage in any substantial observations of what atheists do and don’t actually think, or how we come to the conclusions we come to about God, or how certain we are about those conclusions. Your point is entirely self-defined and circular: if we define “belief” the way you think it should be defined — i.e., as any conclusion about which we can’t have 100% certainty — then atheism is a belief.
    Yes. Sure. If I define a “unicorn” as “any white horse,” then unicorns exist. If I define “socialist” as “anyone who disagree with Glenn Beck, then President Obama is a socialist. So what? Does that say anything at all that’s useful or enlightening about unicorns or President Obama?
    If you have something substantial to say about the similarities and differences between atheism and theism, or the relative plausibility of these hypotheses, then please say it. But if all you’re going to do in my blog is ride a linguistic hobbyhorse about how everyone should define the word “belief” the way you do, then please stop. Do not use my blog as a forum to grind your axe. Thank you.

  41. Eclectic says

    Excellent point Re: “no true Scotsman”; I knew there was something fishy about Maryann’s argument, but hadn’t managed to extrapolate the NTS fallacy past people before I saw you make it clear.
    While I don’t with to condemn an argument, particularly in an informal setting, for having to go back and adjust terms & definitions to fix a problem found later, that does mean that the entire argument has to be re-examined to see if it is still valid or meaningful.
    It is possible that the clarified definition has been narrowed to the point of uselessness.
    Greta, regarding the certainty/guessing dichotomy a more formal way of putting it is: the usefulness of a theory is defined by its predictive power. How frequent, specific, and accurate are its predictions? 95% right is far more useful than 5% right.
    Is that car signaling a left turn in the left-turn lane going to turn left? There’s no certainty (I’ve realized “oh, shit, I don’t want to go this way” and skipped the turn if there’s a big enough gap in the traffic to do so safely), but it’s a damn good guess.

  42. Eclectic says

    Maryann: I actually followed your link, which is to an article that provides additional links, and after skipping over the “biblical evidence” parts, I got to “Empirical Data of God’s Involvement in History”. The title promised so much. But all it is about is old testament prophesies that are claimed to be fulfilled in the new.
    I do agree that we have reliable historical copies of the old testament that predate the new. And I checked them to see that the translations appear to be roughly accurate. (Despite my lack of skill in the languages, I found “ΒηΞλεεΌ” (“Bethleem”) and “ΕφραΞα” (“Ephratha”) in the septuagint and “ב֌ֵ֜ית֟לֶ֣חֶם” and “אֶ׀ְך֞֗ת֞ה” in the masoretic text, although it’s Micah 5 verse 1 in the original for some reason.)
    I’m not familiar enough with the old testament as a whole to know how much quotemining is going on picking specific verses out of different chapters. (A “ruler in Israel” from Bethlehem sounds more like David to me.)
    But ultimately, it doesn’t mean anything. The fact that the new testament is consistent with the old is no more surprising than the fact that The Empire Strikes Back is consistent with the original Star Wars. Unless you accept the accuracy of the new testament to begin with, in which case you don’t need to appeal to the old testament to show miracles.

  43. richirare says

    My 2 cents:
    To me proving the existence of god would be like proving anything else, you just have to adjust the experiments to whatever you are testing. We are testing the supernatural, so lets make cases for how to prove that.
    God is defined as an all knowing, all powerful and all compassionate being. Ok, one at a time. We just need to come up with consistent experiments that proves that such a being can exist. This being must do all of the following to prove me that it is an omniscient being:
    > Read my mind with a 100% accuracy, then;
    > Explain to me (using logic and reason) how is it possible to know what I’m going to do without the constraint that that implies to my will, then:
    > Predict what I’m going to say, then tell me, then I’ll say something (obviously once I know your prediction I’ll say something different), but, your prediction and my answer still have to be the same word by word (this is impossible, but still shouldn’t be a problem for such a being), then;
    > Recite without pause and at verbatim any facts, dates, quotes, data I ask for, then;
    > Predict the result of any coin I toss, (I’ll do this at least a thousand times), then;
    > Predict the order in which the cards of a deck of cards shuffled by me will appear (again, a thousand times), then;
    > Predict the result of the thousand dices I will throw at once (another thousand times), then…
    > (Add here your own probability experiment here).
    If any error is made then this is not an omniscient being. Remember it is a 100% or nothing. After this experiment we move on to the omnipotent part (also known as start breaking the laws of physics big time)
    > Stop the time but let humans roam and have full conscience in this still universe.
    > Disable and enable gravity whenever I ask you to (this would be so cool), then;
    > Get me to the surface of the sun in less time that it takes the light to get there (8 seconds) but save me from scathing, the lack of oxygen and the likes. I want to plunge in the sun at least once, then;
    > Get the sun bellow 0 degrees kelvin, and then heat it up again, this would be more impressive if it was done instantly, then;
    > Make me bigger than the universe and let me see it from outside (ala MIB), then;
    > Take me to the past and to the future, then;
    > Keep me alive after I have beheaded my self and then reattach my head to my body, then;
    > Get my mom back to life (I’d like to talk to her once more), then;
    > (Add here whichever law of nature you want to break and a case for it).
    Again, If this being cannot do but just one of these tasks, then it is not an omnipotent being, at least not in this universe. This way I think I’m ruling out any super advanced alien species with more advance technology. Now the omnibenevolence part:
    > Prevent all suffering in the world from happening. then;
    > Impart justice in a way that satisfies humans.
    Now, all of this experiments have to succeed as a whole in a verifiable scientific manner. That is, this being will carry the same experiments with all the human beings in this world, one by one, in pairs, groups and as a whole. I want to avoid the case of being asllep and mentall illness so our traditional measuring devices will be running and collecting data, cameras will be recording, and peer review will be part of the process.
    Now, if you are thinking, “who am I to demand such proofs and conditions?”, well, if I have to take seriously the existence of such being I need serious proof. No more no less. If all of the above can be done by a being under the conditions that I have demanded, then, I will call that being god.

  44. maxx says

    Good evening;
    Actually yes, atheism which says that there is no God can be proven false.
    How?
    The philosophical summary goes like this – you cannot prove a negative in the absolute.
    If you were to say to me – God does not exist, then I must ask you these questions:
    Have you checked the entire universe to make sure he’s not out there?
    Then you must say, OK, I checked the entire universe and I did not find him.
    But to do so, you must be omni-knowing.
    But then I ask, what if God was behind you all that time so you must have checked all the universe and at the same time.
    But, that would mean that you must have been omni-present and omni-knowing.
    But, in order to be omni-knowing and omni-present would require omnipotence – all powerful.
    At this point you would have to be all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful to claim that an all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful being did not exist.
    But then, you would be affirming that which you are denying.
    Thank you.

  45. says

    Maxx: That is a misunderstanding of atheism. Atheism is not the absolutely certain, unequivocal assertion that there is no god. Atheism, for most atheists, means being certain enough that there is no god. It means thinking that every god hypothesis ever proposed so far has been implausible, internally contradictory, and unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever… and until we see a better god hypothesis that’s supported by better evidence, we are going to assume that no god exists. Atheists don’t think gods exist in the same way that we don’t think unicorns exist: we can’t be absolutely certain that there are no unicorns anywhere in the universe, but until we see some good evidence suggesting that there are, we’re going to assume that there almost certainly aren’t.
    Atheism is not absolutely certain knowledge. It is a reasonable conclusion about what is and is not most plausible, based on the best currently available evidence.

  46. Maxx says

    Good evening again;
    I think I understand your argument, so if I am correct, I could apply it to a time when there was no good evidence to support the idea that the earth was round.
    Folks were “certain enough” that the earth was flat.
    The other problem I have is the categorical fallacy. People across the space of time have not worshiped unicorns (not to my knowledge), nor have not set up entire global institutions to them, created a literal ocean of literature on them, established universities in their name, developed social institutions on them, nor, unfortunately gone to war over them. Nor, over Santa Claus either.
    I am not aware of any formal disciplines in the academy under the heading of:
    Unicornalism or Santa Clausism, nor Unicornology or Santa Clausology.
    I am aware of the formal disciplines of Theology, Soteriology, Eschatology, Theodicy, etc…
    Thank you for the audience.

  47. Maxx says

    Good evening;
    I’m sorry but I just cannot resist this.
    In response to “Richirare” if I may be permitted?
    Do you require the same of everyone in your life who has told you they love you?
    I am truly sorry to hear about your mom. I’m about to lose mine as well. She’s lived a good, Godly life. I will miss her more than I care to reveal. You cannot put that to science; science cannot save her.
    Thank you

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