Caller “Josh” from Episode 21:20 – Further Thoughts

I understand what Josh is asking with regard to hard solipsism. I’ve held since I’ve understood the problem that we can’t know reality is what it seems to be. But we are confronted with no option but to accept what we’re confronted with as the foundation of what’s presented to us to work with. What is the alternative?

When I hear something like Josh has to offer, my immediate thought is how it’s possible that someone can’t differentiate between accepting what confronts us as unavoidable, versus accepting what we aren’t confronted with, and calling that unavoidable.

I get what Josh is trying to communicate. He’s saying that he sees the same reality I do, plus god. And he’s suggesting that just as I accept the rest of that reality, he must accept that same reality, plus god. And we both agree that we shouldn’t deny what we’re confronted with in some unavoidable way.

However, Josh seems to want to define a “feeling” that something is there, with being confronted by that something in a manifested form. The disconnect is that I don’t believe there is a computer on the desk in front of me based on a feeling. I believe it based on a manifestation.

I’d like Josh to imagine a reality we both agree is not real. Let’s say Josh and I have access to a video game that includes some form of simulated reality. In the game, as we navigate the levels, we encounter characters that are manifestations built within the simulation—trolls, goblins, elves, humans. They have territories they inhabit and weapons they use. Some of them can use magic. I tell Josh about a magic golden sword that the elf can access. He has not encountered this yet, so I navigate the game to show him the sword, and there it is, in a box that the elf opens. We both see it, and it manifests to us just as the characters and the territories and other weapons. Josh tells me the humans raise horses. I say I haven’t seen horses in the game. He then navigates to a part of the territories I haven’t visited yet and shows me stables and fields filled with horses.

None of this is real, and yet there are things we can see manifesting, and things we experience with regard to this game. For example, the humans can’t fly, but the elves can, using elf magic. The golden sword can be used by the elves and humans, but turns to ash once it’s grabbed by the hilt by a troll or goblin. And so on. None of this is real—we know it’s only a simulation—and yet there are rules. There are parameters. There are things we can see manifest, and things we can test to see whether they can or can’t be done.

Then Josh tells me the dragons are his favorite characters in the game. I say I haven’t seen the dragons yet, and ask if he will show me the dragons. Josh tells me he can’t show me the dragons. In fact, he can’t actually see them manifested. But he has a feeling there are dragons in the game. I ask him why? He can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling that he believes would not exist in him unless there were dragons in the game.

Even though both Josh and I know nothing in this game is as it seems–it’s all simulated and fake, there is a great deal of difference, between the characters we can encounter in the game, versus the dragons Josh simply feels must be there, although neither of us actually can observe their manifestation in the same way we experience manifestations of every one of the other characters. In the end, whether the reality we inhabit is real or unreal is irrelevant. What difference does it make? What matters is the difference between how we’re determining the elves “exist,” and how Josh is determining the “dragons” exist. When Josh says the dragons exist, he means something very different, apparently, than what we mean with regard to the elves.

I don’t understand what Josh is considering “existent” with regard to the dragons. I don’t understand how a “feeling” within one’s mind translates to a manifestation outside one’s own mind. Just because the reality is all simulated does not make the dragons just as “tangible” within the framework of this game, as the elves. Accepting the existence of dragons in the game—by either Josh or me—represents a departure from how we have, with every other aspect of this game, agreed that things “exist.”

It could be that Josh is trolling. But even if that’s the case, he is by no means the only person to ever use this explanation for the existence of god—to assert that somehow solipsism makes believe in the existence of a god as justified as belief in the existence of the air we breathe. I’ve heard people say this before: We can’t know anything we experience is real, so isn’t god just as believable as that telephone? No. No it’s not, because the telephone manifests in a vastly different way than the god—regardless of what this reality is or is not. Until a god manifests, I don’t agree, or even see how a feeling justifies saying it’s there in the same way we agree the phone is there. Adding things to reality as feelings, in the absence of manifestation, is not how I’ve come to the conclusion I must accept there’s a phone on my desk.

I agree it could be they are both are delusions—but we have to be honest and admit they are delusions of a very different sort.


  1. Wiggle Puppy says

    There’s a simple point to Josh’s call, assuming he was for real: muddy the intellectual waters and make it seem like reality itself is just up for grabs and that every subjective experience is equally valid. It’s the same reason that theists try to claim that atheism is a religion, or that atheists have faith that there is no god (or, alternatively, that atheists have just as much faith in science as theists have in god). It’s an attempt to make the intellectual battle into a stalemate, but it’s easy to see the obvious flaws, which are exposed by the examples of Russell’s teapot and the FSM, as well as your dragon example. People trying to add supernatural elements to the material world we can agree that we inhabit bear the burden of proof to show that these supernatural elements are real. It’s very telling that theists, instead of just provide direct evidence for their claims, spend so much time and energy trying to play philosophical claims and shift the burden of proof. It’s practically an admission that there’s nothing there.

  2. Michael Frans says

    Wiggle Puppy nailed it. It’s just an attempt to bring everything else down to the same level as the unsubstantiated claim. Imagine finding a crappy La-Z-Boy chair in an alley and then placing it into a well-designed room full of high end furniture. It becomes blatantly obvious the chair doesn’t fit in. But instead of re-assessing the chair, you get out a hammer and smash up all the nice furniture until it matches the condition of the chair.

  3. timberwoof says

    This reality of things revealed by feelings is what many religious people mean when they talk about honestly held beliefs. They want to be able to say that those beliefs (dragons) are every bit as real as things in objective reality (elves, humans, horses, swords). This inability to differentiate between objective reality and wishes—or the honestly held desire to not have to—is the core of arguments for laws based on religious freedoms. Their religious freedom means being allowed to treat as real what they know in their hort of horts, despite physical evidence to the contrary, to be true. Thus they interpret denying that their honestly held beliefs have any bearing on reality as a violation of their religious freedoms.

  4. Monocle Smile says

    @Wiggle Puppy
    I like to call your first point the “99=0” fallacy, which argues that all values less than 100 are equal. Creationists employ this in their “teach the controversy” tactic…we can’t be absolutely certain about every aspect of evolution, therefore creationism is just as strong an explanation.

    It’s all just a game to people like Josh/Adam/Alex/Brad/Andrew/Milhouse, because they actually agree with the rest of us on certain things about reality. His whole schtick rests upon starting in an intellectual vacuum apart from each other. His hesitance to even admit that he agrees other people are real and he shares a reality with them is because it would mean there exists a foundation upon which to construct a valid epistemology, meaning eventually he will lose his own game.

    What made me laugh right off the bat about his call was that he asked why the hosts don’t believe in god, but then when asked why he DOES, he literally said that he didn’t expect his reason to be convincing. Now, this guy is either calling just to troll or because he’s butthurt about the existence of the show, but at least we have something to discuss for the benefit of the audience, I guess.

  5. says

    There is only one answer to so called “hard solipsism”, and that is; It is philosophical nonsense, entertaining in a science fiction way, but is really not even worth the time of trying to ‘solve’ it in ANY practical way. It falls into the same category as “Dream analysis and ‘gods’ do, as in “It’s all in your head”, and if you really believe you are in a world where only you exist in any way shape or form, you need to imagine a psychiatrist in to existence and then go talk to them.

    “What made me laugh right off the bat about his call was that he asked why the hosts don’t believe in god, but then when asked why he DOES,
    This kind of caller already know they are believing just for the sake of believing, but lack the intellectual courage to confront their own convictions, so they hope someone else will practically ORDER them to stop believing so they don’t have to make that decision for themselves.

  6. Peter the Mediocre says

    I have tried hard to be a christian a few times, and it was never long before I realized that I was lying to myself. None of the promised happiness and peace of mind showed up, and I found no solutions to problems. Bible verses never gave me actual insight, and some parts of the bible left me with a strong reaction of “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

  7. RationalismRules says

    Tracie, I was (silently) cheering when you responded to Josh’s opening gambit with your deconversion story – I’m sure he was expecting an answer like “because there’s no evidence” which would lead into his argument, but I loved that you chose to go down a different path. As a lifelong atheist (despite coming from a fundie Xtian family) I watch the show for the debating and the rational analysis etc. but I suspect that personal deconversion stories have an important role for ‘doubters’ in the viewing audience – validation of the deconversion process they are going through.

    (Also, it was just a lot of fun knowing how Josh was champing at the bit to get into his argument, while you were telling your story)

  8. Simon & Mrs Wendy Hosking says

    I can understand how a ‘feeling’ can be very convincing. Especially when the feeling seems to confirm what you want to believe. On my way out of Christianity I went through a lot of new age garbage.

    Some of the (chemically enhanced) experiences were so convincing that there was ‘something’ extra to the world. I really, really, really wanted there to be something extra to the world.

    I’ve since learned how the mind can play tricks on itself and I’ve learnt about some of the common flaws and mistakes in thinking people can make. I found I was making most of them. You can’t base the model of your world on unsubstantiated feelings – that leads to world where anything is possible (and it’s clearly not).

    – SImon

  9. Robert Delaney says

    Tracie –
    I don’t have anything specific to say about Josh, but I did want to take a moment to thank you for your contributions to the show and the Atheist community as a whole. I’ve been watching TAE for going on 15 years now and your approach to callers is one of the things that makes the show so great. You have an amazing intellect and an incredible talent for cutting through nonsense and drilling things down to their core point, all while taking a collaborative, and not combative, approach with callers (nevermind your great gift for analogies). It truly is fantastic to watch. I’ve learned a great deal from you, and I look forward to continuing to learn more. Keep up the great work.

  10. legion2016 says

    Whoops – somehow my last post ended up munged and half of it got cut off, if the admin could delete it and post this instead that is what I was trying to say, thank you!

    Thanks for the great show!

    I think it would be best if your call screeners tried to identify future calls from “Josh” or “Alex” or “Lucas” or “Adam” or “Brad” or “Andrew” or “Nick” or whatever name he will use next time he calls and remove him before he gets on air.

    His calls are incredibly repetitive, he always begins with a long pause and then saying “Hello?” and then by asking the hosts why they don’t believe, and then usually follows up with an assertion that “we all take things on faith.” From there he goes in a few different directions, but is always very evasive and refuses to answer questions the hosts pose (like what god are we talking about). He ends up getting hung up on by the hosts more often than not after going round and round in discussions that go nowhere.

    I believe he is a troll, but troll or not he is consuming a tremendous amount of your airtime – maybe 1/10th of the entire call in time of season 21 has been him.

    As evidence of his potential trollhood, in none of the past 6 calls he has made in season 21 he has not mentioned his “god feeling” which were central to this call – previously he’s been talking about Kalam, the ontological argument, etc..

    Please – put this guy in time out until he can think of something other than:

    Your screeners can find his previous calls here:

    21.20 – Josh in Buffalo New York, starting at 14:45 –
    “I just kind of wanted to ask why you don’t believe?” – We all take things on faith
    Call resulted in Matt hanging up on him.

    21.15 – Alex in Colorado, starting at 1:06:20 –
    “I wanted to ask why you don’t believe in god?” – What if belief is based on faith?

    21.13 – Lucas in New York, starting at 41:58 –
    “I wanted to know why you deny god?”
    Call resulted in Russel hanging up on him.

    21.11 – Adam in West Virginia, starting at 27:38 –
    “I just wanted to ask why you don’t believe?”

    21.08 – Brad from Colorado, starrting at 54:16 –
    “I was just wondering, why you don’t believe in god?” – We all have faith in something
    Call resulted in Matt hanging up on him.

    21.05 – Andrew from Rhode Island, starting at 1:23:25 –
    “I just wanted to know why you didn’t believe god exists?”

    21.04 – Nick from Oregon, starting at 1:15:23 –
    Matt read off the call screen that Nick was going to ask why they don’t believe, but pointed out that they had already covered this in a call. – Kalam
    Call resulted in Matt hanging up on him.

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