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Schrödinger’s Theist

Sye Ten Bruggencate, the obnoxious presuppositionalist, has been on a spammin’ rampage lately — he’s got some new video he’s plugging, and I suspect it’s the usual tripe — you can’t disprove god, and the True Atheist has to set aside some tiny bit of provisional doubt for his premise, therefore… ☆ ☆ JESUS ☆ ☆.

The True Pooka describes how to deal with this nonsense.

I’ve been sharing the same message for years — in fact, just last night I did a podcast on The Place with Dr. Michael W. Jones (I’ll include a link once it’s available) in which I discussed the Christian bait-and-switch of announcing they have evidence for “god”, which is usually some natural feature which is evidence for the existence of our universe, not their zombie-onna-stick. I don’t share this trait with Jerry Coyne, who reserves some remote possibility that a god exists; I’m willing to go on the record and state with complete finality that no god exists. That’s not because I have complete knowledge of everything in the universe, but because the believers are utterly incapable of telling me exactly what their god is — it seems to be quantum jello, oscillating at an impossibly high frequency with an amplitude that spans galaxies.

So let them get specific. Let them describe their god with sufficient detail that I can actually test its existence; so far, the only consistent detail they’re willing to offer is that it is invisible and untestable (which leaves one wondering how they know about it). It puts them in an interesting state, in which our lack of knowledge is the only thing that allows them to make extraordinary claims about nonexistent beings, but committing to any one detail collapses the whole vibrating edifice and makes it testable — and then the whole lie unravels.

And don’t let the “scientific” skeptics fool you: wobbling in a state of pointless vagueness is not somehow an epistemically superior condition to having specific testable claims, it’s far, far worse. It’s a state of being not even wrong.

Comments

  1. says

    My lead question when I find myself in these discussion is, “Which god, out of the dozens in current use, and why that one rather than any of the others?”

    The usual response (in my circle of friends, at least) is a smug, “They are all the same god.”

    My follow-up is to ask about Muslims worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Jews honoring the sacred flame representing the light of Ahura Mazda, and Christians making puja to Shiva. That usually puts an end to the conversation right there.

  2. Dick the Damned says

    I wrote up a ‘proof” that ‘god’ doesn’t exist a while back. It’s based upon the specificity issue that PZ identifies. I send it to god botherers when i get into debates with them. So far, none has refuted it. They just cut & run.

  3. raven says

    it seems to be quantum jello, oscillating at an impossibly high frequency with an amplitude that spans galaxies.

    LOL.

    The xian god is quantum.

    Among educated intellectuals and atheists, it is hiding behind the Big Bang and does nothing.

    As soon as they leave, the wave function collapses and he becomes a male humanoid ancient middle eastern Sky Fairy. And a sockpuppet who hates what you hate and wants you to have what you want.

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    That’s my first challenge whenever god is mentioned: “Define your god – otherwise we won’t know what we are talking about.”

    I usually get everything from God is the universe, all the way down to, “You can see god in a baby’s smile.”

    If I keep asking questions about the attributes of god (and I always do) the believer will eventually point out that the concept of god is “beyond the understanding of mere mortals,” to which I reply, “So you don’t know what you are talking about.”

  5. theignored says

    How’s about this? Say:

    ==================
    Yes, I can be certain that your god doesn’t exist because his alleged word, the bible, gives some characteristics of your god that can actually be tested. For instance: Lying is against your god’s nature, correct?

    (assumes the xian says yes, otherwise they’ve opened up a different kind of debate!)

    Then your god would not lie, correct?

    Then point out the case of the prophet Samuel being told by god to lie about the reason he was going out one time (Samual was on his way to anoint David as the future king of Israel). God had told him to tell Saul or his messengers, that he was just going out to make a sacrifice unto god or something like that.

    The bible lays out a characteristic of god that the doesn’t lie, yet that same book has him telling someone to lie. That’s a way that we can test for your god and he fails.
    ===============

    I dunno, good enough?

  6. says

    “Schrödinger’s Theist”

    Seems more like Heisenbergg’s theists. Or perhaps the complimentarity christian: you can’t tell if they believe any particular thing because whenever you ask, their position changes. The more you try to nail it down, the more uncertain it is – but once you leave the room for a while, it has a high probability of being woo-woo.

  7. scottrobson says

    And don’t let the “scientific” skeptics fool you: wobbling in a state of pointless vagueness is not somehow an epistemically superior condition to having specific testable claims, it’s far, far worse. It’s a state of being not even wrong.

    Not. Even. Wrong. Indeed. Isn’t this “superior condition” from the “scientific” skeptics really just nihilism?

  8. says

    I always answer that as an omnipotent deity may choose to create a universe that is in any way indistinguishable from a universe that has no such deity, I must remain agnostic on a meaningless epistemological level. That really upsets them. I usually get accused of dissembling at this point. “You do so know what God is!” But I don’t really. There were so many dodges and inconsistencies in the definition of God when I was a believer. “God helped me get a birthday cake, but he wants you to suffer with disease so you will grow spiritually.” “God helped me get a good deal on a new sofa, but he let all those people drown in Hurricane Katrina because of free will.” But never “God is so damn inconsistent in His messages that we better well just rely on science and humanism and sleep in this Sunday.”

  9. says

    The bible lays out a characteristic of god that the doesn’t lie, yet that same book has him telling someone to lie.

    That’s granting way too much credibility to the bible.

    The bible was written by ignorant humans and shows no sign of being divinely inspired. Tell me again why you believe it contains facts about the supernatural?

  10. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I am more certain that god doesn’t exist than I am certain that…
     
    1. Evolutionary theory explains biological diversity.
    2. There isn’t a teapot* orbiting Mars.
    3. My wife loves me.
    4. I’m not a brain in a vat experiencing the world as an illusion.
    5. Penn Gillette is a vanilla-frosted douchecake.
     
    I wouldn’t claim agnosticism regarding any of these proposals. Just because we can’t really be absolutely sure of anything doesn’t mean that we can’t make really safe bets.
     

    *At least a teapot has properties and shit/

  11. chigau (違う) says

    I’m not completely certain that no god exists but I am completely certain that none of the ones so far described exist.

  12. nich says

    My follow-up is to ask about Muslims worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Jews honoring the sacred flame representing the light of Ahura Mazda, and Christians making puja to Shiva. That usually puts an end to the conversation right there.

    Ugh. I wish I had your friends then. In my experience you get this god-awful, pseudo-philosophical bullshit about how GOD is omnipotent and would obviously have the power to make Himself known to ME beyond a doubt and He has simply chosen not to make Himself known to Muslims/Jews/Hindus/YOU/bla bla bla because He knows their/your hearts are not ready for His message and to force you to accept Him robs you of your God-given free will and bla bla-fucking-BLA. He wants you to come to Him, dontcha fucking know? (It annoys me how you can almost hear the capitalization of the pronouns when they talk.)

  13. says

    I use much the same approach. It’s my goalposts for converting me to any specific religion.

    1. Describe what your god is. Not what it does. Not some attribute like “love”. No. I want to know what it is made of. Is it a spirit? Fine. What is a spirit made of? What are its constituent parts?
    2. Describe the method by which you know the answer to #1. Do all other theists everywhere agree with your methodology and your findings? Would an agnostic atheist agree? A gnostic atheist? How can you prove to them you’re correct?
    3. Describe the method by which you distinguish your particular god from all of the other gods both extant and non. Why Allah and not Shiva? Why Yahweh and not Quetzalcoatl?
    4. Do all of this without resorting to quotations in a “holy” book.

    They almost always give up at #1. Every time. God has an ontology problem.

    And when some persist with the “well, god is unknowable”, then my next question usually finishes the conversation:

    If god is unknowable, how do you know what it wants?

    Theists can’t even agree on whether or not god likes a bacon cheeseburger. Until all religions agree on god’s opinion of a bacon cheeseburger, I’m afraid it’s pointless to discuss larger questions like the “meaning of life” and “equal rights for all humans”.

    Come back to me when you have the bacon cheeseburger question resolved.

  14. jamessweet says

    Since you brought up the Coyne-PZ spectrum: I fall somewhere in between. I stop just short of PZ’s pronouncement, but I will say that I cannot imagine what evidence would convince me of the existence of an entity that I would call “god”. Coyne is happy to list evidence that would convince him, and I agree with PZ that all of that stuff would be insufficient. But I’m not going to quite say that nothing could convince me.

    The ill-defined nature of the term is part of the problem, but it is not an out-and-out dealbreaker. Phlogiston is an ill-defined concept, and I can’t really imagine any evidence that could emerge at this point which would convince me that phlogiston turns out to be a better hypothesis than the ones we have now. (The italicized phrase harks back to a point PZ has made in the past, that it is much easier to imagine a different universe with a different history that has evidence for god, but that at this point the ship has pretty much sailed) I consider the god hypothesis to be in a similar category as the phlogiston hypothesis: The evidence against is already overwhelming, there is no useful reason to consider what new evidence might change that hypothesis, but nevertheless I’ll stop just short of the finality of PZ’s statement. Only just.

  15. Gregory Greenwood says

    When theist come out with ‘can you say with certainty that a god doesn’t exist?’, asking them to define the characteristics of their god is probably the best way to go, but I have another way of dealing with it that is funnier – I turn the same argument around on them. I state that my non-belief in god has the same basis as my non-belief in all supposedly supernatural phenomena, and I then go on to ask them that, if they believe in a supernatural godhead, then can they can state with certainty that some other mythical creatures don’t exist. Vampires and werewolves are my favourites, though it works just as well with unicorns and fairies, and if anything even better with the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Cthulhu and the Old Ones.

    Assuming that I decide to go with vampires and werewolves, then if they say that they obviously don’t exist I ask them for their proof. If they say that such creatures are scientifically impossible, I use their own schtick against them, and say that such things could be ‘beyond science’ as they claim their god is, in which case their impossibility on a scientific basis is a non-issue unless the same arguments can be applied to their god.

    If the approach they take is that there would be some evidence if such creatures existed, I point out the lack of evidence for their god. When they claim that their god is powerful enough to conceal its own existence from scientific inquiry, I postulate a scenario where such creatures possess mind controlling annd memory altering abilities, and hold such political power behind the scenes that they can cover up their own existence. If the lack of evidence for their god is no obstacle to believing in it, then neither can the lack of evidence for the undead be held against them.

    If they say that it is impossible to know one way or the other if such creatures exist (monster agnosticism), then I follow their arguments again, saying that they are then accepting that it is possible that blood lusting supernatural monsters haunt the night. A variant of Pascal’s wager then seems appropriate, and I ask them if they carry wooden stakes and a gun loaded with silver bullets whenever they go out after dark, especially on a night with a full moon. If they say no, then I ask them why it is that they are so reckless to go about after dark without taking such elementary precautions if they accept the possibility that such creatures exist and the commesurate risk of death or the loss of one’s own humanity.

    Special pleading is inevitably wheeled out at some point, but I don’t let them get away with claiming that their god is somehow different from all other mythology without providing some evidence to back that claim up.

    The point of the exercise is to demonstrate that, while it is possible to argue that the nonfalsifiable nature of the god myth means that there is some notional opening for the possibility of its existence, the consistent application of that logic means that the exact same level of possibility must be applied to the existence of all mythical creatures – buying into the god myth brings a whole lot of other guests to the credulity party, and you cannot profess a supposedly ‘rational’ belief in god and hope to maintain any claim to intellectual consistency without also accepting the existence of other mythical creatures.

    Most theists storm off without answering, others like to rant about how evil I am and generally do everything possible to divert the discussion way from this line of questioning, but I have managed to get a couple to entertain, in all apparent seriousness, the potential existence of things that go bump in the night as an extension of their christianity, much to the horror of other nearby xians. At such a juncture, keeping a straight face starts to become a pressing problem…

  16. gearloose says

    Schrödinger’s Prophet: until observation collapses the probability wave,
    superposition of states keeps Jesus both dead and alive.

  17. Gregory Greenwood says

    gearloose @ 18;

    Schrödinger’s Prophet: until observation collapses the probability wave,
    superposition of states keeps Jesus both dead and alive.

    Not merely Zombie Jesus, but Quantum Zombie Jesus. Could this be what the xians need to finally convert Deepak Chopra…?

  18. dekomitri says

    Hi everyone,

    Pooka doesn’t actually cover Sye’s tactics. He won’t talk about God. Instead he talks epistemology. He’ll challenge you whether you can be certain of anything. Upon admitting that you can’t he call the your worldview irrational. If you continue talking he’ll just keep saying “but are you certain about that” or “could you be wrong”. If you say certainty doesn’t matter he’ll accuse you of a faith position.
    In essence he is using the epidemiological Nuclear Option. It’s in no way an argument to convince.

    There are plenty of ways out of this but none of them are quick or elegant. His scheme is made to make opponents look uncertain, unprepared and claim victory.

  19. erichoug says

    “Yes.”

    That really is all you need to say.

    I like the one where they ask you :”Have you ever lied?”, “Have you ever stolen anything?” Of course you are supposed to say yes and then admit that you are a vile sinner in need of them saving you. The last time some street preaching idiot asked me this, I just said no to both questions and when they kept badgering me I blew up on him:”YOU MAY BE A GODDAMNED LIAR AND A THIEF BUT I AIN”T”.

    As with any ambush, the only way to survive is to not do what they attacking force expects you to do. Don’t try to be rational and logical with them, they are relying on you to do so. Don’t try to reason with them, they aren’t reason. Instead, go right for the jugular of their idiotic belief system using the very holes in their theory that they want you to ignore.

  20. RFW says

    I’m probably repeating something someone else has already pointed out, but that tired line “you can’t disprove god” applies to virtually all divine (and maybe all supernatural) entities. You can’t disprove FSM either, nor Cthulhu, nor (to plagiarize from Gregory in Seattle) the Trinity, Ahura-Mazda, Shiva, or even the nasty little sprite who lives under the rock at the end of my driveway.

    Suggestion: when pointing this out and the conversation shuts down per Gregory’s comment, don’t just sit back and look smug: get aggressive: Hey, I thought you guys were willing to at least discuss this issue, and here you are running away from it the moment somebody pokes a hole in it. Are you telling me I’m right, you’re wrong, and you don’t know how to respond to a valid critique of religious belief?

    Be wary of fists and tire irons (and bullets! don’t forget: they’re often armed!), though: some of those xters get quite agitated when you rattle the bars on the cages of their belief.

  21. graham says

    Question: ‘can you say with certainty that a god doesn’t exist?’

    Answer: I have absolutely no interest in your question. After years of searching, including meditation and prayer, I’ve never come across anything remotely like a god or god-type energy I could relate to or which wanted to relate to me personally. If there is a god I have every reason to believe that he/she/it doesn’t give a flying f*** about me and is not open to being influenced by me. So why would I waste time on a question about whether ‘god’ exists any more than I’d spend time debating the existence of a chocolate teapot on the far side of the moon?

    Apatheism rules!

  22. Randide, O che sciagὺra d'essere scenza coglioni! says

    Kevin,

    I do know for absolute certain that I would like a bacon cheeseburger.

    I hope this clears things up.

  23. says

    Pooka doesn’t actually cover Sye’s tactics.

    He’s using pyrrhonian skeptical tropes, he’s just doing it wrong by stopping short of following them to their conclusion, which is that one should withold all judgement about any claim of knowledge. For a theist, triggering a “crise phyrronien” is like calling artillery in on your own position: it doesn’t bother the artillery at all.

  24. Sastra says

    I’m willing to go on the record and state with complete finality that no god exists. That’s not because I have complete knowledge of everything in the universe, but because the believers are utterly incapable of telling me exactly what their god is — it seems to be quantum jello, oscillating at an impossibly high frequency with an amplitude that spans galaxies.

    No. I’ll agree that concepts of God are jello — but jello is still something. I can’t and won’t state that my atheism is unfalsifiable because I think belief in God is deeply rooted in common, primitive, childlike intuitions regarding mind/body dualism. The major issue with theism isn’t “God” — it’s the general category of the supernatural. Grant that and at least some details can be added.

    So we need a definition of the supernatural which can do some work at separating out what is necessary to the concept of supernatural — not immunizing strategies like “unknowable” and “untestable.” As Richard Carrier defines it, “If naturalism is true, everything mental is caused by the nonmental, whereas if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing is not.” The supernatural then would be supported (and naturalism would be undermined) by things like ESP, PK, and any other phenomenon which point to some sort of pure mentality unconnected to a material substrate. Or, if you’d rather, it WOULD have been plausible IF it had turned out that our brains only cool the blood and there is nothing in the body which can be damaged and our minds subsequently impaired.

    As it is, that’s not the case. It’s a hypothetical which is wrong — but if right it would have set the necessary ground for a cumulative case for God. Baby steps.

    I think dualism is not clear in the scientific sense, but clear enough to be conceivable. And this mental jello is what keeps getting shoved around into all the various forms of religion, spirituality, and the paranormal. Maybe I’m less certain than PZ because my own background wasn’t traditional theism with all the bells and whistles, but a simpler spirituality which thought of God as a Higher Consciousness or Principle guiding the universe like our minds guide our thoughts. Mere Spirituality.

    And what was my model for the Ghost in the Universe? The Ghost in the Machine: my own inner experience of awareness and thought which only seems immaterial, as if it exists nowhere and relies on nothing and is simple and pure. Sloppy intuition. That’s why theists have problems describing God. They’re making an analogy to their own minds … and having problems describing their experience in material terms.

  25. says

    I am as certain that God doesn’t exist as I am that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. There’s an infinitesimal chance that I could be wrong about either of those, but the distance between my confidence level and absolute certainty is of interest only to philosophers.

    And if anyone wants to me to consider the God-hypothesis seriously, then they can specify their God up front, or we have nothing to talk about. Spare me the pseudo-philosophical wanking that hides in generalities.

  26. tfkreference says

    I find the term “zombie-onna-stick” offensive. Anyone who has been to the Minnesota State Fair knows it should be “zombie-on-a-stick.”

  27. says

    quantum jello

    For a while, I was fond of “metaphorical vapor” to describe the extremely vague, undefined, untestable (and boringly impotent) gods. For the opposite quantum state, I used “sun chariot gods” to describe the testable, absurd gods of mythology who manually performed tasks that we now explain with science.

  28. says

    #29: You are apparently unfamiliar with Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, and may need to be sent to the Pharyngula re-education camp for a while.

  29. says

    As soon as they leave, the wave function collapses and he becomes a male humanoid ancient middle eastern Sky Fairy. And a sockpuppet who hates what you hate and wants you to have what you want.

    No, more like virtual particles in a vacuum of irrelevancy. He/she/it exists only long enough to be “detected” by believers, then “poof” disappears again, as soon as someone else tries to confirm it, and, due to the properties of such particles, it never has the same attributes, properties, or position twice in a row.

  30. says

    I can prove God doesn’t exist.

    a) If God exists, he/she/it wants us to behave a certain way.
    b) To get us to behave a certain way, he/she/it would give us clear guidance, such as periodic news reports or an infallible, well-known, and comprehensive book available online to all.
    c) No such book exists. QED

    The flaw is that (a) and (b) are assumptions that implicitly definitions of God, and even though most theists will agree with you if you present with (a) and (b) they start wiggling the jello when you get to point (c).

    If you allow the theist to get flexible with concepts like “clear guidance” and “comprehensive,” you’re just cream cheese balls afloat in the artificial raspberry cloud.

  31. Alverant says

    Yep, I have it down to 2 simple steps:
    1) Define the god
    2) Hold it up to the hype
    Most thiests balk at the first one and those that “allow” their god to be defined discover the pitfalls of the second. Perfection’s a pain, one little flaw and it’s gone.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Apatheism rules!

    I think you’re describing apathetic agnosticism: “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” :-)

    “crise phyrronien”

    Crise pyrrhonienne. La crise. :-)

  33. falstaff says

    If you look very closely at pictures and video of Sye, you can see Gazoo on his shoulder.

  34. says

    Q: “Can you say with certainty that a god doesn’t exist?”

    A: As you well know, of course it’s impossible to prove a negative scientifically, and it’s intellectually dishonest of you to employ confusion about that point to create the illusion of an interesting argument for the existence of the supernatural. I can say with certainty that, if you define the supernatural as that which exists beyond space-time, then it is obviously impossible to gain knowledge about the supernatural via the natural methods we mere humans have available to us, and therefore anyone like you who claims with certainty that a god exists is either delusional or dishonest.

    Neither one of us can claim certainty. I’m a skeptic, so what I care about is evidence. The question is, what does the evidence suggest? Human beings are exceptionally good at making up new superstitions and myths, and even you admit they can’t all be true. The evidence suggests that beliefs about the supernatural like the ones you hold were invented by humans for human reasons, and do not exist in response to the actual existence of the divine.

    (I don’t think it’s necessary to force your opponent to define god. Christians are obviously talking about Yahweh. But it doesn’t matter; the argument is the same regardless of the supernatural entity.)

  35. nora says

    My usual answer to “can you prove there is no God?” is – no, I also can’t prove there are no leprechauns. But I don’t think there are and I don’t live my life as if there were.

  36. says

    I suppose someone could make an assertion something like this:

    By “God” I mean that our observable universe was designed and created by some sentient entity, rather as you might make a terrarium, let’s say. Said entity set up the laws of nature and the contents of space-time, and they generally run on their own but said entity can intervene miraculously if it so chooses. By the proposition, the entity must exist outside of space-time, just as you are outside of your terrarium.

    There is obviously no evidence for this assertion, and it does not equal Christianity or any other specific religion. Actually I’m not sure it would be very satisfying to a believer because this entity isn’t exactly supernatural; rather we have expanded the idea of nature to embrace a “superuniverse” that incorporates ours, just as the terrarium is in your universe, which from your point of view is not at all supernatural, even though you would appear supernatural to the inhabitants of the terrarium. This is more like speculative science fiction (“Starmaker”) than it is like religion.

    But a truly surprising event such as the 900 foot Jesus might make people take it more seriously. It’s kind of religionish. Anyway it’s not impossible. On the other hand you could argue that the assertion is meaningless on epistemological or ontological grounds because anything outside of the observable universe cannot logically be said to exist.

  37. says

    Freewill arguments to explain the elusiveness of God are silly. If God designed the Universe then he has placed huge limits on my freewill even before we consider whether definitively proving his existence would do so. For example the Universe is so huge even at the speed of light it would take me more than four years to reach Alpha Centauri, and the physical properties of the Universe make it effectively impossible to reach the speed of light. With our current knowledge it looks like even reaching a speed that would make interstellar travel doable in a human lifetime is impossible. So I can’t jump on the next spaceship to Alpha Centauri for a visit when I feel like it, because I’ll be long dead before it gets there.

  38. Sastra says

    The way I see it, the “gotcha!” in the “can you say with certainty that a God doesn’t exist?” doesn’t happen when you answer “no, I can’t: I might be wrong.” They only shout it out triumphantly if the atheist says “YES, I KNOW that there is no God!”

    Now they think they have you: it’s faith. And dogmatism. Gotcha! You walked right into it. They’re probably not going to be impressed with the “God is undefined” argument because they do have a sloppy intuitive understanding and assume you do too. You followed the script.

    Admitting that no, you might be mistaken usually takes them aback because they can’t charge you with having faith just-like-they-do. They don’t want the atheist to sound humble and reasonable: they want an arrogant reflection of their own arrogance. Both sides think they KNOW! If the existence of God is a provisional hypothesis — now it’s in your territory.

    So I think the guy who made this video has it backwards. Yes, when push comes to shove the definition God is much vaguer than they want it to be and you can push this with good effect. Sure. But in my experience theists don’t like it when atheists approach atheism as a provisional conclusion informed by science. It takes away their main talking point re “it’s all faith” and they deflate a little.

  39. Air says

    A fair bit of this discussion seems to be orbiting around the concept of
    Ignosticismbut I haven’t seen that term used much around here- ran across it by chance recently.

    (and apologies for formatting; can’t figure out why my linky looks hinky.)

  40. CJO says

    From Phillip K. Dick’s Valis (if memory serves):

    1) God doesn’t exist,
    2) And anyway, He’s stupid.

    In VALIS, Kevin, friend of Horselover Fat and always bemoaning his dead cat, is fond of saying in their ongoing theological discussion something to the effect of ‘God is either stupid, incompetent, or he doesn’t give a shit. Or all three.’

    A position I think Dick could sympathize with, but he was some kind of believer in a Christian-ish theology himself, however idiosyncratic. (I haven’t read the recently published Exegesis, and probably won’t; as much as I’ve enjoyed reading the novels, I don’t think I can take a concentrated dose of the weirdness and paranoia.)

  41. Azuma Hazuki says

    Sye is a loathsome piece of human waste. There’s a FB group called Anti-SyeClone Foundation that’s dedicated to wrestling his apologetics apart, and while it can get very technical and dry I think they’ve got some good things in there.

    They could use some of the insights in this thread though, specifically the one about how Sye is misusing Pyrrhonian tropes by Marcus in #25. The more smart people we have banging away at this lot the better, IMO.

  42. erik333 says

    @3 Dick the Damned

    Do you have it online somewhere?

    @42 Sastra

    Actually, Sye absolutely has a response ready when a person is honest and replies that they cannot say with absolute certainty that god doesn’t exist. He will lie and say that his position provides a foundation for certainty (He claims an omnipotent god can reveal the truth in such a way as to make you “absolutely certain” – I’m unsure why people don’t attack this point, I would), and claim victory because yours doesn’t. So if you do run into this clown at some convention or so, prepare for followup fuckwittery.

  43. Gregory Greenwood says

    Zeppelin @ 26;

    I call it the Superstition Superposition Admission.

    That should probably be the title of an episode of The Big Bang Theory

  44. Lofty says

    Q: “Can you say with certainty that a god doesn’t exist?”
    A: “I can be 100% certain your god doesn’t exist or indeed that any god in any religious tradition doesn’t exist. They are all way too absurd to exist”

  45. anuran says

    To quote Jefferson

    But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    As long as you’re not ramming your belief down my throat like a priest’s shmekele you can believe whatever you want.

  46. dexitroboper says

    I don’t believe in gods for much the same reasons as I don’t believe in fleebgorgles.

  47. Anri says

    dekomitri:

    There are plenty of ways out of this but none of them are quick or elegant. His scheme is made to make opponents look uncertain, unprepared and claim victory.

    Actually, there is – smack him in the face. If he objects, challenge him to either prove that it happened, by his own definition of ‘perfect proof’, or admit that uncertain evidence is useful in the real world.

    (“I refute it thus!“)

    It’s also a good way of demonstrating that ‘the world is just an illusion’-type post-modernists don’t actually believe what they’re saying.

    *disclaimer: No, I’m not actually advocating smacking someone in the face just because you disagree with them. You could always pose it as a thought experiment, I suppose.

  48. Ichthyic says

    ooooh
    We have a Camp?

    It’s the camp with a difference
    Nevermind the weather…

  49. consciousness razor says

    It’s also a good way of demonstrating that ‘the world is just an illusion’-type post-modernists don’t actually believe what they’re saying.

    You do understand that solipsism predates postmodernism by centuries, and actually has nothing to do with it, right?

    Still, it makes me wonder: are there postmodernists who are solipsists? I doubt it. Have there ever been any solipsists at all? Probably not for very long.

  50. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Azuma Hazuki -

    Sye is a loathsome piece of human waste.

    QFMFT

    There’s a FB group called Anti-SyeClone Foundation that’s dedicated to wrestling his apologetics apart, and while it can get very technical and dry I think they’ve got some good things in there.

    Almost enough to get me to join the FaceBorg so that I can participate ….

  51. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Perhaps a good response would be to point out that there are varying levels of certainty. 100% certainty- things like laws of physics, geometric proofs etc. But I can’t say that I’m 100% certain of even these, since it’s possible that everything I’m experiencing (including the laws of the Universe) are just an illusion. But for the sake of argument we’ll call these things “Absolute Certainties.” The next step down is 99.99999 (repeating infinitely)% certainties. In this category I would put facts like: God doesn’t exist, unicorns don’t exist, leprechauns don’t exist, etc. The scale goes down to a functional level of how certain I am that a coin will land heads, or that the Red Sox will win the pennant etc.

    But the important point I would raise to the believer is that while God’s non-existence may not be in the first category, it’s so close to it that it might as well be. And that is based on empirical (lack of) evidence and is hardly cause for the believer to rejoice. On a spectrum from 0%-to-100% Certain, the nonexistence of God (x) is like:

    [0%----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x-100%]

    Or as Dan Dennett put it “I’m as sure of it as I am of anything else.” Again, and admission that should hardly be cause for a big celebration by the believer I’m debating.

  52. says

    Sastra @27:

    As Richard Carrier defines it, “If naturalism is true, everything mental is caused by the nonmental, whereas if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing is not.” The supernatural then would be supported (and naturalism would be undermined) by things like ESP, PK, and any other phenomenon which point to some sort of pure mentality unconnected to a material substrate. Or, if you’d rather, it WOULD have been plausible IF it had turned out that our brains only cool the blood and there is nothing in the body which can be damaged and our minds subsequently impaired.

    As it is, that’s not the case. It’s a hypothetical which is wrong — but if right it would have set the necessary ground for a cumulative case for God. Baby steps.

    As has been said upthread, it’s possible to conceive of a universe where substantial evidence for God exists… but we don’t live in such a universe.

    I think dualism is not clear in the scientific sense, but clear enough to be conceivable. And this mental jello is what keeps getting shoved around into all the various forms of religion, spirituality, and the paranormal. Maybe I’m less certain than PZ because my own background wasn’t traditional theism with all the bells and whistles, but a simpler spirituality which thought of God as a Higher Consciousness or Principle guiding the universe like our minds guide our thoughts. Mere Spirituality.

    The problem here is, even if it was possible to demonstrate dualism in some form, you have only established evidence for that form of supernaturalism. Conclusive evidence of telekinesis might open the possibility of ESP also existing, but it doesn’t itself constitute evidence for it. Likewise, both could (conceptually) exist but operate on unrelated principles, with neither requiring the possibility of “ungrounded conciousness” that would constitute evidence for ghosts.

    And that’s the issue with evidence for god. No matter what supernatural effect you can think of, it only provides direct evidence for the next supernatural concept up the chain. With god being the ultimate, well, everything, no matter what you use as evidence for its existence, there will always be something simpler and more parsimonious that could explain it better.

  53. consciousness razor says

    The next step down is 99.99999 (repeating infinitely)% certainties.

    Technically, that number’s identical to 100%, but you mean that it’s just very close to 100%.

    Is “certainty” always measurable as a probability? I mean, if that’s not what the percentages mean, then it’s 50% or 90% or 100% of what?

  54. consciousness razor says

    The problem here is, even if it was possible to demonstrate dualism in some form, you have only established evidence for that form of supernaturalism.

    What other form(s) could it take? An example would help.

  55. heliobates says

    Perhaps a good response would be to point out that there are varying levels of certainty.

    Not going to fly. Not with a presupper, anyway. True Pooka’s got a good point that it’s not a “debate”, nor even a “discussion”. They’re running a denial-of-service attack on unbelievers. For people who claim to be mainlining Truth™, they care very little about it.

  56. theignored says

    To: Marcus Ranum at comment 10
    The bible was written by ignorant humans and shows no sign of being divinely inspired. Tell me again why you believe it contains facts about the supernatural?
    I don’t. I just use their own book against them since they are the ones who believe in it.

  57. consciousness razor says

    Er… Reading back on it, I think in #60 I was confused about what the point of #59 was. I had assumed you meant there may be different kinds of supernaturalness (so to speak), not just that there were separate and different phenomena which all fit that one definition of “supernatural”….

    Maybe we have ESP but not telekinesis, for whatever reason, or both of those but not a god.

    Okay. Yeah, we’d still just be stuck with making an inference. I don’t think Sastra was claiming you could be “absolutely certain” about every supernatural entity someone conjures up, if you ever found one supernatural thing. But it would definitely change the picture. Our position wouldn’t be nearly as strong, and some of our arguments would need to be committed to the flames. Anyway, you have start somewhere (and take “baby steps”), and right now, most theists aren’t even trying to do that.

  58. says

    theignored:
    I just use their own book against them since they are the ones who believe in it.

    I don’t think that’s very good strategy. Since, as I said, it grants the book way more credibility than it deserves. Ask them to establish why they consider it credible – it shifts the battlefield from arguing about details of the silly book to getting them to establish the silly book in the first place; clearly establish the burden of proof as being on them.

  59. says

    Er… Reading back on it, I think in #60 I was confused about what the point of #59 was. I had assumed you meant there may be different kinds of supernaturalness (so to speak), not just that there were separate and different phenomena which all fit that one definition of “supernatural”….

    Maybe we have ESP but not telekinesis, for whatever reason, or both of those but not a god.

    Correct, that’s what I meant. For example — to indulge in a bit of skiffy wankery — there might exist an organ within the brain that could “alter the frequency of the localised dark energy field” with the result of imparting relative motion on small objects. While roughly meeting the above definition of “supernatural”, it would not logically extend into other seemingly related domains.

    Okay. Yeah, we’d still just be stuck with making an inference. I don’t think Sastra was claiming you could be “absolutely certain” about every supernatural entity someone conjures up, if you ever found one supernatural thing. But it would definitely change the picture. Our position wouldn’t be nearly as strong, and some of our arguments would need to be committed to the flames.

    Agreed, but people often talk about “evidence for the supernatural”, when the various concepts under that umbrella only really share certain qualitative descriptors, but not necessarily any substantive commonalities. Real evidence of any specific supernatural claim would certainly have major ripple effects across many scientific disciplines, and may cause other claims to be re-investigated, but until an evidentiary link is established, they remain about as connected as “biological evolution” and “stellar evolution”.

    All that said, the main point I take from Sastra’s description stands: all supernatural claims, whether it be as narrow as ESP or as broad as God, rest on the necessary existence of some form of mind-body dualism, and so far there is absolutely no evidence of this on any front whatsoever. This ongoing conspicuous absence, despite best efforts to find it, tells its own pretty strong story.

  60. says

    #40 cervantes – The terrarium example is nice – I may steal that.

    #42 Sastra – Excellent point. I think you’re right.

    #68 heliobates – Really like your “denial-of-service attack on unbelievers” comment.

    I change my previous answer. If a Christian barks at you, “Can you say with certainty that a god doesn’t exist?” the correct answer is to refuse to play the game. You cannot have a fruitful discussion with someone who is so thoroughly disingenuous. They come to the “debate” with an arsenal of cheap shots and rhetorical dirty tricks, with no intention of listening to reason. They are completely impervious to logic and evidence. Refuse to engage and politely but firmly send them on their way.

  61. theinvisibleman says

    It is not about being testable but about being meaningful. Possible things don’t have to be testable. Nevertheless ‘god’ is not meaningful, in general. And it is absoltely certain that meaningless words, such as’god do not refer to things that exist ( or that do not exist)
    .

  62. birgerjohansson says

    “Can you say with certainty that a god doesn’t exist?”

    I prefer the Schrödinger’s version of Odin, who allows us to drink all the mead we want.

  63. Lars says

    A fair bit of this discussion seems to be orbiting around the concept of
    Ignosticism but I haven’t seen that term used much around here- ran across it by chance recently.

    Actually, PZ’s original post seems to be an argumentum ad/pro ignosticism. I wonder why the word itself is so unpopular, though. Maybe too much alike “agnosticism”. At least that’s my experience: Every damn time I have declared myself an ignosticist in a conversation, people hear “agnosticist”, and I have to explain the whole obvious thing to them.

  64. Anri says

    consciousness razor:

    You do understand that solipsism predates postmodernism by centuries, and actually has nothing to do with it, right?

    If ‘understand’, might mean ‘it sounds correct now that someone who actually knows what they are talking about* has mentioned it’, then yes.

    *(which is to say, not myself – I’m frightfully ignorant of philosophy in general)

    Still, it makes me wonder: are there postmodernists who are solipsists? I doubt it. Have there ever been any solipsists at all? Probably not for very long.

    I was just going by what I read recently of a self-proclaimed post-modernist’s explanation of why they held the beliefs they did.
    Sounds as if they were even more confused than I am – and takes some doing!

  65. John Morales says

    Lars:

    Actually, PZ’s original post seems to be an argumentum ad/pro ignosticism. I wonder why the word itself is so unpopular, though. Maybe too much alike “agnosticism”. At least that’s my experience: Every damn time I have declared myself an ignosticist in a conversation, people hear “agnosticist”, and I have to explain the whole obvious thing to them.

    Tell me you’re not an atheist, so that I can snigger.

    (Are ignostics theists, or are they not?)

  66. harrycoatbean says

    c’mon surely Thor exists … lots of physical evidence.. Thunder when he throws a strop, a day named after him Thursday (thorsday originally) and if I miss with a hammer I get a thor thumb … much more evidence than the christian god :)

  67. David Marjanović says

    He claims an omnipotent god can reveal the truth in such a way as to make you “absolutely certain” – I’m unsure why people don’t attack this point, I would

    I remember when we attacked it right here on Pharyngula a few years ago. Here goes:

    No. You can never be absolutely certain that you’re not insane, hallucinating or just plain mistaken. Feeling absolutely certain about something doesn’t mean it’s true!

    I did. He ran away.

    Uh, no. His last comment is the second-to-last of the thread, and the last is by Ebonmuse; and the last few pages are about “describe your standards of logic!” “NO U”.

    …At least I learned Sye had no idea of science theory in 2008; given his attitude to learning, he probably still doesn’t.

    and if I miss with a hammer I get a thor thumb …

    Thread won.

  68. says

    To quote Jefferson

    But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    As long as you’re not ramming your belief down my throat like a priest’s shmekele you can believe whatever you want.

    Of course, I have always argued that the fundamental flaw in his logic is the assumption that his neighbor’s neighbor isn’t planning, right at that moment, to do both, in the name of their faith.

    As to the argument that one can’t prove god, how about this response: “Since we are now going all philosophical on the subject, instead of dealing with facts, there is no evidence I am not god, and that you are just a figment of my imagination either, but that hardly gets us any closer to understanding anything than your assertion that there is one, but can’t prove it.”

  69. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    @Helio- I should have prefaced my comment by noting that in the real world, the best answer is simply to tell them to “piss off” and not even bother getting into a discussion, because you’re right (and Pookah and many others here too) that the people who pose this question to atheists are almost always uninterested in any real discussion and are just trying for a Gotcha! moment. But in those rare cases when you find someone who is sincerely interested in knowing why you’re an atheist rather than agnostic, I’ve found it useful to use the method I proposed (or something similar) to illustrate to the person that we all reach conclusions that are so near-certain that we mentally categorize them as certainties. And to show that there is no difference between the things they think are laughably unlikely (unicorns etc.) and God. It’s just another approach to the unicorn-agnostic method. In most cases an honest person must admit that evidence is a key determinant in how they categorize things and again puts them at odds with the exemption that they give to the existence of God.

  70. heliobates says

    Uh, no. His last comment is the second-to-last of the thread, and the last is by Ebonmuse; and the last few pages are about “describe your standards of logic!” “NO U”.

    I asked him several times in that discussion for his full, formal theory of knowledge and how it would account for Gettier (because he was going for the justified true belief kill). I also asked him for the full, formal presentation of the Universal Unchanging Laws of Logic and Reason to which he stated several times that he had access.

    What you quoted was Sye already in full flight, not just from me, but from his own argument.

  71. Useless says

    I’m afraid you’ve contradicted yourself. The definitive test to disprove God is to build a device that measures the oscillations of intergalactic quantum jello and show either that the frequency isn’t all that high after all or that the amplitude is subgalactic. That shouldn’t much more difficult than measuring gravity waves.

    The God hypothesis is testable and can be disproven, so it has at least the scientific standing of Creation Science.