Are atheists attacking the wrong god?


There comes a time when, on some particular issue, I start to feel that I have heard and said all that I really care to on that subject, have formed a pretty firm opinion about it, and am no longer really interested in debating its merits much more since I am unlikely to learn anything new. The only reason to further engage with the question is to challenge the propagation of ideas one thinks are wrong and harmful.

That point occurred to me some time ago with respect to the existence of god. It is a subject that I have thought about for decades and have come to the firm conclusion that god does not exist. Does this mean that my mind is closed on the subject? Not completely. But it does mean that someone would need to promise me some striking piece of evidence in support of god’s existence for me to take an interest in what they are saying. But what one is usually offered is something along the lines of a subtle and nuanced re-interpretation of the ontological argument, and such things fail to excite.

But I try to be open and so when I saw the headline of an article by Oliver Burkeman that read The one theology book all atheists really should read, I told myself what the hell, maybe this article this book will really reveal something new, especially since Burkeman begins by saying that his sympathies lie with the atheist side. Burkeman contends that a new book out by theologian David Bentley Hart titled The Experience of God argues that atheists have all this time been arguing against the wrong kind of god, that of some kind of superhero like all the other gods of history, and that Hart’s god is something else entirely.

This was not a promising start. I have encountered Hart’s musings on this topic before (see here and here) and was not impressed. In the past, he has said things like the following:

Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a “supreme being,” not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.

And from what Burkeman writes, his new book seems to be in a similar vein, making the same argument.

God, in short, isn’t one very impressive thing among many things that might or might not exist; “not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being,” as Hart puts it. Rather, God is “the light of being itself”, the answer to the question of why there’s existence to begin with.

This is supposed to be new? God as the ‘ground of being’ stuff has been around for decades, ever since Paul Tillich proposed it as “the answer to the ontological threat of non-being” and that “this characterization of the theological answer in philosophical terms means that the answer has been conditioned (insofar as its form is considered) by the question”.

Burkeman continues:

Since I can hear atheist eyeballs rolling backwards in their sockets with scorn, it’s worth saying again: the point isn’t that Hart’s right. It’s that he’s making a case that’s usually never addressed by atheists at all. If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why.

No, I don’t. The burden of proof is not on me to show why any statement that someone cares to make is rubbish. They have to show why it is not rubbish. But Burkeman goes on:

And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won’t clinch the deal. The question isn’t a scientific one, about which things exist. It’s a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.

And here is the problem. Theologians like Hart deny that god exists in the same sense as anything else is said to exist. For them, god does not exist in the way that tables and chairs exist but ‘exists’ as the answer to why everything else exist and gives meaning to their existence. If they want to believe that, that’s fine. But it entails no consequences whatsoever. You could replace god in that statement with unicorns or leprechauns and it would have the same level of empirical content. Just as I do not feel obliged to respond to unicorns and leprechauns as giving meaning to existence, neither do I feel the need to answer this case for Hart’s god. The burden of proof is on Hart to show why his assertions are not content-free musings but are instead worth taking seriously.

As I said in a previous post:

I think philosophy is a very valuable discipline, enabling people to develop the tools to think clearly, probe deeply to the core of ideas, and sharpen our use of language. Theology, however, is another story. It is largely the futile attempt to justify belief in the existence of god in the absence of any evidence. Theologians use the language of philosophy, not to sharpen and clarify and enlighten, but to create a fog of words to hide the fact that they have no evidence for god. Theology is, to co-opt George Orwell’s phrase, an attempt to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind. When you have no evidence, words become your shield.

Harsh, perhaps, but that’s how I feel. So I will resist Burkeman’s urging to read the ‘the one theology book all atheists really should read’. Maybe Burkeman in his review has missed some earth-shattering arguments and evidence in Hart’s book but I doubt it and will take my chances.

Comments

  1. Richard Simons says

    To me, that first paragraph you quoted is complete bafflegab. Can other people extract any meaning from it or is it just me?

  2. says

    Burkeman and Hart’s combined drivel is Pascal’s Wager combined with a clickbait phrase.

    My immediate response to anyone who blathers about “god” is to ask which one. I point out their arrogance in assuming I know the particular “god” they are babbling about out of the thousands claimed throughout history. Of course it’s usually the “god of abraham” (*), but pointing out how theirs is no more believable than the others tends to be extremely effective.

    (* The falun gong cult is very active here in Taiwan, harassing Taiwanese and foreigner alike. Their attitude towards atheists is very unpleasant.)

  3. says

    Please excuse me for a moment for pretending Hart hasn’t just made a nice word salad.

    If there is this non-being that is the ‘source of actuality’ then why does this particular world exist? Nothing about a source of actuality implies any particular world would become actual. Once you add in the the necessary properties this source of actuality would have to have to explain any particular world being actual then you are back to talking about a particular thing/being.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    So Hart wants to redefine both “god” and “existence”.

    I haven’t kept up with developments in the study of logic, so maybe someone more informed can set me straight:

    Special pleading remains a core fallacy, no?

  5. aziraphale says

    “You could replace god in that statement with unicorns or leprechauns and it would have the same level of empirical content.”

    Or you could replace it with “space-time”, which is rather more plausible as the cause of existence (since matter can pop up out of the vacuum as a quantum fluctuation).

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    Burkeman and Hart’s combined drivel is Pascal’s Wager combined with a clickbait phrase

    I would call it a case of special pleading, along with an apologia about how special pleading is justified in their very very special case. But uncertainly in deciding exactly how an argument has gone wrong is not evidence that it is right. Arguments may contain multiple errors.

  7. Dunc says

    If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why.

    Because it’s vacuous. It redefines “god” in such a way that it does not entail any of the things people normally mean when they use that term, and replaces them with nothing at all. It makes no meaningful claims, and implies no conlcusions.

    Are we done?

  8. says

    By Thor, I hate people who are deliberately obscure and pretend that makes them profound. If you can’t be bothered to explain your idea clearly, then I can’t be bothered to listen to you.

  9. Robert,+not+Bob says

    It always perplexed me. There’s a fundamental principle/material? that underlies all existence, even space-time… and it’s authority? What?

  10. BethC says

    Just as I do not feel obliged to respond to unicorns and leprechauns as giving meaning to existence, neither do I feel the need to answer this case for Hart’s god. The burden of proof is on Hart to show why his assertions are not content-free musings but are instead worth taking seriously.

    The burden of proof lies always on the individual wishing to persaude another. Yes, Hart has the burden of proof if he wishes to convince you to changes your ideas about the meaning of concepts like god and existance. OTOH, if you wish to convince people like Hart that their ideas are wrong, you have to shoulder the burden of understanding what he means by those terms as well as the burden of proof that your ideas are correct and his wrong.

    For example, you need not undertake proof that unicorns do not give rise to the meaning of existence, as that isn’t his contention. But if you want to convince others that his actual contentions are wrong, you would have to deal with the conceptual difference between existence in the material world (no unicorns on earth at this time) versus existence in a non-material sense (unicorns absolutely exist as mythological creatures).

  11. Mano Singham says

    BethC,

    The burden of proof and the burden of effort are different things. If I want to persuade someone of something, then I have to make the effort.

    But the burden of proof is something quite different and follows certain standard rules. In criminal legal cases, for example, the burden of proof is on the state to show guilt, not on the accused to show innocence.

    The burden of proof when it comes to existence claims, such as what Hart is making, is always on the person making the existence claim. It is what prevents us from having to devote effort to refuting innumerable arguments of the type: “You cannot prove that X doesn’t exist, therefore X exists.” By default, X does not exist unless it is shown to exist.

  12. says

    God is “the light of being itself”

    God is the ineffable shit of the bull, the woo of the woo, the veritable will o’ the wisp.

    God-believers who talk that kind of crap ignore the basic epistemological problem they bring on themselves: if god is so fucking ineffable, how do they even know it’s there at all?

    The problem all religions have is that whatever means the believer has to come by their belief is also subject to skeptical challenge, in infinite regress. Oh, you got that idea from a book? Why do you think the book is telling the truth? You got that idea from a “sensus divinatus”? Why do you believe that your “sensus divinatus” is not a hallucination? Etc. When woomeisters talk about the god of infinity, you can ask them how they, being finite beings, would be able to recognize infinity when they saw it, or where the idea of god’s infiniteness came from; why do they think that? It always seems to boil down to: “because someone told me so” or “I read it in a book” or best of all “because someone told me it’s in a book.”

  13. says

    busterggi:
    When believers get it straightened up amongst themselves what their god is then give me a call.

    No. Really, no. When believers try to straighten out that, throughout history, it has resulted in massive wars and slaughters. They can’t seem to straighten it out (because they actually know nothing about the god they claim to be fighting about) without resorting to the simple rebuttal of trying to kill the other guy.

  14. BethC says

    @Mano

    Nice of you to respond personally. You distinguishing between the burden of proof and burden of effort is interesting, outside of situations like courts of law and formal debates, I don’t see much difference between the two terms. The burden is indeed on Hart if he wants to convince anyone else of his beliefs. Presumably he does as he wrote a book about it. However, if you wish to convince Hart, or someone else who believes as he does, that they are mistaken, the burden lies on you.

  15. mnb0 says

    @18 BethC: just repeating your mistake doesn’t do anything to correct it. If you want to convince MS, even if you want to make your case look better than his, you have the burden of addressing what he wrote. It’s in comment 15 and you completely ignore it. If I know MS he won’t answer you anymore exactly for this reason.

    “If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why.”
    Existence is observable and part of consistent and coherent theories. God isn’t. Next.
    (Yes BethC, I the irony doesn’t escape me)

  16. moarscienceplz says

    Hart seems pretty smugly convinced that atheists won’t catch his greased pig of an argument. Let’s see him visit a Southern Baptist church and convince THEM that this basis-of-being concept is the god that they worship who raises dead people and cures diseases. THEN come to the atheists.

  17. Mano Singham says

    BethC@#18,

    Although I used the example of law and science , it was just to illustrate the difference between the two. The burden of proof used in those cases is what we use in everyday life, otherwise we could not get through the day because we would be constantly in fear of chimeras.

    There are many of us who go about our daily lives as if there are no ghosts, vampires, zombies, monsters in the closets, and all manner of other horribles that can be, and are, conjured up by imaginative people. How can we be so confident? I doubt that we have made any effort to prove their non-existence. It is because we have tacitly recognized that the people who believe in them have not made the case for their existence and so we are entitled to summarily dismiss them as non-existing.

  18. says

    “If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why.”

    What theory of god leads us to the conclusion that existence depends on god? Why does it necessarily follow?

    I think the ‘argument’ is rubbish because it hasn’t been made. Simply asserting that existence depends on god is not making an argument; there’s no reasoning or evidence behind it to react to at all. An argument would be in the form of “god is a condition of existence because { reasons }” Then we can look at those reasons.

    Put another way: if I just say “it’s rubbish.” that’s not an argument, either. Which is why I say “it’s rubbish because it’s an unsupported claim, a mere assertion, and not an argument that can be responded to, at all.” Sort of like the brilliant Monty Python sketch “I would like an argument” when the fellow says
    ‘look, this isn’t an argument! the automatic gainsaying of my points is just assertion!”
    “yes it is.”
    “no it isn’t!”

  19. says

    How can we be so confident? I doubt that we have made any effort to prove their non-existence. It is because we have tacitly recognized that the people who believe in them have not made the case for their existence and so we are entitled to summarily dismiss them as non-existing.

    I don’t agree with this.

    I don’t think anyone would act as if there were supernatural things because someone said there were, until there was a large enough body of people saying there were, or people had personal experience with them. It’s when enough people claim personal experience that you finally get second-hand belief. None of us walk around worrying about burning bushes talking to us because we’ve never experienced it, our neighbors haven’t either, nor have our drinking buddies or parents or kids or friends. Humans appear to believe things largely based on the number of times we hear about something, with personal experience being the trump card. But the crowd-based reasoning comes up again and again: a lot of people seem to believe in acupuncture because a lot of people believe in acupuncture. After all, if millions of people believe in it, they must have a reason, right?

    One of the reasons I stopped being a ‘social scientist’ (my degree is in psych) was because the field, at least in 1985, shied away from trying to grapple with hard questions of epistemology. It’s quite clear that lots of people believe things that are wrong – but psychology at the time was unwilling to study being incorrect; they prefered to enumerate belief systems. Maybe that has changed. I doubt it – because it’s political. How is it that so many people can believe Carly Fiorina’s “baby parts” nonsense, given that she doesn’t even appear to believe it and more or less anyone who wasn’t asleep in that class understands it’s shameless propaganda? There appears to be a herd effect or something. I think it may actually be a behavior we learn very early on when we are being socialized. My ‘argument’ for why I think it’s a learned behavior is that humans appear to be very easy to fool when there are several people presenting the same lie, and are more likely to be skeptical if it’s presented by a single individual. Given the sizes of human packs and how long humans have existed in mega-groups, it simply can’t have evolved into us. It may be that we have a critical period in which we are more susceptible to authoritarian dictates and that appears to maybe have something to do with why religion is easier to inculcate in the young.

  20. says

    I see my previous comment went horribly off into the weeds. Sorry about that.

    Short tl;dr: I don’t think most people ask whether belief in nearly anything is justified; they often appear to accept it or not based on the perceived population of other people who appear to accept it.

  21. BethC says

    There are many of us who go about our daily lives as if there are no ghosts, vampires, zombies, monsters in the closets, and all manner of other horribles that can be, and are, conjured up by imaginative people. How can we be so confident?

    There are also many people who do about their daily lives believing in all sorts of things, including but not limited to ghosts, gods and good luck. I don’t think this has any bearing on whether or not they exist.

    I doubt that we have made any effort to prove their non-existence. It is because we have tacitly recognized that the people who believe in them have not made the case for their existence and so we are entitled to summarily dismiss them as non-existing.

    Sure, you’re entitled to summarily dismiss them as non-existing. What you aren’t able to accomplish is convincing those who believe otherwise that you are correct in those believes. If you want to term that the ‘burden of effort’ rather than the ‘burden of proof’ that’s okay with me. After all, it’s not like ‘proof’ actually exists anywhere outside of mathematics.

  22. DonDueed says

    BethC, perhaps Mano has no interest in convincing others that the original claim is invalid. Maybe it’s enough for him to simply explain why the claim makes no sense to him, and let others come to their own conclusions. That’s how I read his post, anyway.

  23. Mano Singham says

    DonDueed,

    You read me correctly. That was the point of my original post, that I have no time for warmed over ontological arguments.

  24. BethC says

    @Marcus Ranum #23: We are in agreement. Almost all of what we believe, we believe based on what other people have told us. Our historical and cultural environment conditions us to accept a variety of beliefs. Our own experiences then inform our assessments regarding who is trustworthy and when. Superstitious beliefs are no different from scientific studies in that regard. Our assessment of what is true is based on how trustworthy various sources have been in the past, which is why scientific studies are held in higher regard than most other sources.

    @ DonDueed #26
    That may be. I’m agreement with his statement here.

    The burden of proof is not on me to show why any statement that someone cares to make is rubbish. They have to show why it is not rubbish.

    But that’s not sufficient for me to conclude the same because what he quotes does not read like rubbish to me, which I thought was his point. But your reading makes sense also.

  25. says

    Our assessment of what is true is based on how trustworthy various sources have been in the past, which is why scientific studies are held in higher regard than most other sources.

    Sextus Empiricus (rightly, I am afraid) equates most of our beliefs as being derived from authority, with all authorities being able to be stacked in infinite regress. I.e.: where did scientists learn the scientific method from, why are they so sure it works? Sextus’ project was to demolish all of epistemology, though – his move is not a wise one for anyone with any beliefs at all, because pyrrhonian skepticism aims to demonstrate that claims of knowledge appear to be unconvincing. For a believer in gods, that’s an “own goal” For a scientist or non-pyrrhonian philosopher, it’s a nasty problem but it doesn’t “own goal” because science is actually able to sit (albeit painfully) next to “… it appears to me now that…” qualified view of reality and acceptance that there does not appear to be a way to guarantee someone will agree they share an objective reality with us. The scientists’ “well, my experiments yield repeatable results” or the philosopher’s “it appears to me that this is the way the world is” work because they are grounded in observation. Belief in god is not. There are some claims that some people saw the hand of god, or talked with god, but those claims are writings in books; there’s no reason to believe them and the believer instantly falls into the infinite regress of the pyrhhonians.

    That’s the problem with all belief systems: infinite regress. Hume had clearly studied his Sextus, and worked pyrhhonian ideas into his skepticism, which left theologists with nothing to do except navel-gazing and arguing about belly button lint.

  26. says

    I wrote:
    Belief in god is not.

    Belief in god in 2015 cannot be said to be anything more than belief in people who went before us, who believed in god. That’s why I tend to laugh at the very idea of people claiming any knowledge about the properties of gods or the will of gods: all they are saying is that they believe some other person believed such-and-such about some god. I’d be tickled pink if someone told me why they believe god is infinite, because (of course) I’d get to ask about their evidence or reasoning.

  27. Excluded Layman says

    One day, a material monkey had a thought. It was a thinky thought, of the sort only a very clever monkey could think. In awe of his thought, he knew he could impress the wise elders. The monkey ran into town, clutching his thought tightly, so he wouldn’t lose it.
    After a brief pause to catch his breath at the doors to their great library, he went inside. It took hours of being really smart, but they came to see his thought as he did. And impressed they were.
    “This is quite a thought!” Proclaimed one.
    “And very thinky!” Continued another.
    The elders agreed that this was among the most thinkiest thoughts ever thunk! Overjoyed, the monkey ran through the town, sharing his thought with everyone he met.
    A gathered crowd was celebrating his achievement when a small voice cried out,
    “But I don’t think it’s true!”
    A stunned silence fell over the crowd. Who could deny such cleveritude and perspication? Their frantic eyes eventually found the culprit: A small child clinging to her mother’s back.
    “I just don’t find it terribly convincing.” She offered meekly.
    “And just who are you to doubt this?” The monkey challenged. “What have you done to show you can think with the best of them?”
    “I… Um—”
    “Have you joined a club for the especially astute, and risen to the top of their esteem?” He interrupted. “Did you go to see the elders, and convince them of your thinkyness?”
    “…Well, no—”
    “And yet you presume to be qualified to handle such intricate sophistration? If you are, then please, prove this, my thought, to be false!”
    Alas, the naïf could not, and shrunk away in defeat.
    “Then I declare it proven!”
    A cheer roared from the crowd as they lifted the monkey onto their shoulders and paraded him around the square until bedtime.

  28. John Morales says

    BethC @25:

    After all, it’s not like ‘proof’ actually exists anywhere outside of mathematics.

    Interesting how you put proof in scare quotes there, since you are referring to analytical proof, rather than to an existence proof. Do you seriously doubt that (say) roses are provably existent?

    And that’s the thing that amuses me about these airy-fairy sophisticated theological claims… they have reached the point where their god can’t even be found in the gaps, and must therefore be sought beyond the horizon of epistemic doubt.

    (Or, as others have noted, they have etiolated the god concept so very much that it bears no relationship to any theistic or deistic god. It’s about as useful a concept as solipsism!)

  29. John Morales says

    Richard Simons @1, being bored, I respond to your (rhetorical) question:

    To me, that first paragraph you quoted is complete bafflegab. Can other people extract any meaning from it or is it just me?

    Sure. It boils down to “everything must have a basis”, though ostensibly obfuscated.

    As Marcus has noted, it’s tantamount to endless recursion. Any programmer who has written a recursive algorithm knows there must be a base condition, else one gets a stack overflow.

    (Or, by Occam, why hold that existence needs a basis which just is, when one can without any loss merely hold that existence itself just is? 😉 )

  30. birgerjohansson says

    The real god is something else entirely…
    In fact, it is the Eschaton*, as described in Charles Stross’ two SF novels. “I am the Eschaton. I am descended from you and exist in your future”

    *Originally an AI with time-travelling capabilities, it transferred its infrastructure to a non-matter substrate. becoming pretty much indistinguishable from the usual concepts of a god, Fortunately the AI was more friendly towards humans than any traditional god.

  31. birgerjohansson says

    BTW, I think Ganesha is pretty cool. But the Elder Gods are more powerful than any deity from the Indian subcontinent. For information about N’yar-lath-hoteph and his ilk, contact Miskatonic University or just read H P Lovecraft.

  32. John Morales says

    [addendum to my previous]

    Still being bored, I note that on a logical basis it’s also a fallacy of composition: it does not follow that because everything in the universe is contingent, the universe itself is contingent.

    (Or: the universality of contingency is special pleading)

  33. John Morales says

    birgerjohansson, it’s hardly original to Stross, much as I admire him.

    (cf. Omega Point; also Roko’s basilisk)

  34. says

    John Morales wrote:

    As Marcus has noted, it’s tantamount to endless recursion. Any programmer who has written a recursive algorithm knows there must be a base condition, else one gets a stack overflow.

    Unless, of course, it’s turtles all the way down.

  35. brucegee1962 says

    While I’m fairly sure that Hart is just writing BS, I’d hate to pile on what is essentially a third-remove version of his writing (Singham excerpting Burkman excerpting Hart). I know that, if I wrote a book on any subject whatsoever, my opinion of people who rejected it based on a few scattered paragraphs without context would be pretty low.

  36. Holms says

    Brucegee1962, you could also follow the link to the article and see the argument closer to the source. Somehow though I suspect you will not find it very compelling all the same.

  37. lorn says

    There are some deists, I’m most familiar with the Christian version, who carry their God around, seemingly, on their key ring. For them it is kind of like a Pokemon. Pet, sweet companion (which coincidentally shares all the opinions and prejudices of the holder), but when needed it can grow large and do all the really big God stuff, like impose judgment upon all humanity, but it still conveniently lives in a little balls swinging from a key chain. That ability to be small is handy when said Christian wishes to violate the rules, like when Haggard was getting his luggage lifted.

    On the other end there are deists who imagine a God so big and impersonal that it might be a universe. A God so big that the primary, possibly only, manifestation of God is existence. This existence is so profound and huge (Really Yuuuuge) that it pretty much has to be completely impersonal. In the final analysis, the difference between a God that manifests as a vast cold and impersonal universe, and a vast, cold and impersonal non-God universe is meaningless.

    That later version is something that I think deists and atheists might have a lot of common ground. Both cases end up at: We are here. (The other option doesn’t go anywhere.) Followed quickly by: What do we want the future to look like?

    It is reality based. A clean slate, and, to my mind, a good start.

  38. says

    lorn:
    a vast, cold and impersonal non-God universe is meaningless.

    How do people say such things? Seriously. First off, unless you define “meaning” as “significant to the universe as a whole” then “meaning” is likely to be something like: “having a purpose, or significance” (which is sort of a recursive definition) and let’s say that might be applied to an individual’s life: “my life has meaning if it has a purpose or significance” Well, then having meaning is a mighty low bar: if I assign myself a purpose, I have meaning. If I am significant to others, or myself, I have meaning. The Planet Earth is full of meaning: its surface crawls with meaningful people and things. The inanimate things that have meaning are things that are given their meaning and significance by the other people and things crawling around them. You might say “eventually Planet Earth will be scoured of life by the solar expansion! Ha! So much for your ‘meaning’!” except simply saying that implies that the fact the Earth will be scoured of life is meaningful otherwise nobody’d say it.

    Meaning is like viewpoint in Einsteinian relativity: things have more or less meaning depending on your relationship to them. So, yeah, Planet Earth hasn’t got a lot of ‘meaning’ to the inanimate supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*, which may eventually absorb Earth. But Earth has meaning a’plenty to the lifeforms crawling on it right now, and perhaps those lifeforms will do things to try to preserve or convey their meaning: that’s what monuments, books, poetry, art, piles of rocks, and beer can collections are for. If Earth’s sole remaining artifact is the Voyager Probe, with its precious copy of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, we have created some meaning that may outlast us.

    Now, “uncaring” … of course the universe is ‘uncaring’ – it’s inanimate. But there’s a lot of intense caring down here on Planet Earth and it has plenty of meaning.

  39. Dwhite6932 says

    No, BethC, trying to convince anyone of anything is a waste of time if they will not concede to such basics of logic as the proper placement of the burden of proof. That education must come first. Once they learn to apply such rules, eventually they’ll come around to identifying most their own fallacies without anyone’s help. Such is the beauty of leading an intellectually honest life. It won’t provide the answers to everything, but it will bring clarity to many things, will help you defend yourself against the bullshit merchants, and is readily available to just about everyone. I think our species’ only hope is for us to be “evangelists” of critical thinking — a formidable task, but one which seems to have an attainable goal — and not debunkers of bullshit, of which there is an infinite supply.

  40. John Morales says

    Marcus @43, lorn wrote that the difference between X and Y was meaningless, not that Y was meaningless.

  41. says

    lorn wrote that the difference between X and Y was meaningless, not that Y was meaningless.

    Whups, that’s me charging off into the weeds over there!!!!

    Hey! WEEDS!

  42. lanir says

    So a statement that effectively can be boiled down to “it is because it is” with no supporting structure or evidence of any kind is intended to prove something? Proof has pretty light duty for some people apparently.

    It’s also a bit odd to have them refer to superhero stories to try to clarify differences between their stories and other stories, then pull some of the same tricks that happened in early superhero stories. Namely the superhero would face a threat that he (or she but historically mostly he) could not possibly handle, not with anything the reader knew about. Then in a simple writer’s fiat the superhero would magically develop a new power you’d probably never see again that very handily dealt with the problem. Thus we magically go from some god not existing to suddenly and magically he is existence itself. And there are two simple rebuttals to this.

    1. Using a mirror to invert things and investigate how that changes the situation is a useful trick for finding the truth… if you’re using it to question your own assumptions. It’s a useful tool for investigating your own biases to see where they are. It cannot prove your biases are objectively correct because the mirror world is not part of reality.

    2. The Christian deity is an abusive monster in the old testament. He did pretty much any horrible thing you can think of there to impress on the gullible how they should not take him lightly, for he was strong and would bully anyone who did not agree with him. But he never made anyone exist less. If that were a part of his story at all, it would show up there. If anything the Greek story of Echo is the closest mythological example I can think of for this. Perhaps Hart or Burkeman is secretly suggesting I should pray to Athena for the wisdom to see past these petty heresies?

  43. al kimeea says

    Ah yes, The GoB argument rebooted. Again. OK. Let’s go with that as a valid cause. Now show it is the christian deity behind existence and not one of the thousands of other dead immortals.

    No, just saying ‘I don’t buy it’ isn’t an argument and I’m sure all here are aware of that and I’ll wager our host has other posts that go into more depth.

    Hart isn’t saying anything new and these arguments have been refuted many times. He and his ilk are reduced to trying to talk their deity into existence by Planck-length sized gaps. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.

  44. DLC says

    Wait . . . is that guy really arguing that we exist because God is Existence? We’re all just bits of sub-atomic fluff in god’s fingernail ? for reals ? I think I’m being punked here.

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