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Do atheists know enough about the concept of God to reject it on rational grounds?

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Sometimes I think atheists are simply having arguments with themselves – or, more precisely, with phantoms bred by their own ignorance. It’s easy to see why atheism does not make more headway, even in modern secular society: Once atheists begin to spell out the sort of deity they are rejecting, it becomes clear that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Julian Baggini, author of the Very Short Introduction of Atheism (perhaps the only one you need) and founding editor The Philosopher’s Magazine, is a very clever and amiable guy — under normal circumstances. But have a look at this piece, which appeared as the lead opinion piece in the most recent Saturday edition of The Independent, the liberal UK broadsheet paper. When an atheist pens a piece with the title, ‘If science has not actually killed God, it has rendered Him unrecognisable’, one wonders which screws have become loose.

Like others on this blog, I am always bemused by the ways in which atheists strive to say convincing things about a deity in whose existence they supposedly do not believe.

The occasion for Baggini’s piece is the publication of Stephen Hawking’s latest book, which apparently concludes that God was not necessary for the origin of the universe. (Since the book only comes out this week, no one has read it yet but there has been considerable media publicity surrounding this one point.) Baggini’s point is that physicists should not be taken as experts on God – even if, as in Hawking’s case, it’s not necessarily to God’s advantage – because physics is most likely atheistic anyway, and if not, then the sort of deity it allows is not one anyone believes in. Baggini appears to think that he’s doing both physics and theology a favour here. In truth, he is slighting both – not to mention the vast majority of religious believers whose idea of God is not tied to the ‘chap depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel’.

 It’s clear that behind Baggini’s belligerent rhetoric is a plea for philosophy’s role in matters relating to the nature of God. This is fine, but it need not require driving a wedge between physics and theology, say, by dismissing appeals to the ‘mind of God’ as mere metaphor or (amazingly) singling out the Abrahamic God as the sort of deity that modern physics rules out of court. Both claims betray ignorance of various sorts.

In fact, I would suggest that perhaps the most fruitful way to understand the relationship between theology and physics is as accounts of reality’s ‘mind’ and ‘body’, respectively. This certainly allows much room for exploring possibilities, given the many positions philosophers have taken on the mind-body problem over the centuries.

36 Replies to “Do atheists know enough about the concept of God to reject it on rational grounds?

  1. 1
    NZer says:

    Very nicely put Steve. I can finally understand something that you wrote !!! 🙂

    Indeed, when Dawkins wrote his 20 or so word hate-depiction of the God he is rejecting, I could not understand what he was talking about…

  2. 2
    CannuckianYankee says:

    The God that Hawking rejects is not the God of theism, so I don’t see how his argument is at all relevant. He used to marginally accept a prime mover, who only acts by the laws of physics. Now he rejects that prime mover, which none of us theists accepted in the first place. So all Hawking is saying now is that he rejects Deism. Well I’m not even certain if he’s being more consistent now or then.

    Hawking’s new stance seems to hold that the laws of nature created the universe. Is he completely overlooking the logic in favor of not “allowing a divine foot in the door?”

    As a physicist, Hawking could not be more of a Darwinist. Same thinking, different discipline.

    We’ve had much discussion on this blog lately on these subjects, and it appears that if one rejects the mind-body dichotomy, one is bound to eventually reject rational thought.

  3. 3
    Kyrilluk says:

    I reject the mind-body dicotomy. But I reject equally the absurd argument that God didn’t create the Universe because there must exist billions and billions of Universes. And as for the M-theory, this is not even a theory!!! How can someone base his “faith” in the non-existence of God on a theory that doesn’t exist yet?

  4. 4
    Eocene says:

    The funny thing is that the headlines seem to make it appear that this is a new position of Stephen Hawkings, but in reality this has been his atheistic stance all along. What has the man ever really proved if anything ??? Is this world better off as a result of this man’s genius ??? Hardly. If you take his genius and add it to all the other geniuses combined, we still get a natural world that is globally falling apart all around us.

    This is nothing more than an attempt by Hawkings to once again bathe in the limelight. What else is there for him ??? The man has no real normal life as we know life. His only purpose is capturing the praise and worship for which we usually ascibed to an all knowing creator. This often is the same motivation we find with many intellects of our times. Their world is loaded with the ultimate goal of achieving fame, glitter and glory, that is, to be worshipped by their fellow man, especially if these are the officially recognized “Panel of Peers”.

    @Kyrilluk

    “How can someone base his “faith” in the non-existence of God on a theory that doesn’t exist yet?”

    EXCELLENT POINT Kyrilluk

  5. 5
    EvilSnack says:

    The only theological point that atheists have managed to prove is that they are exceptionally poor theologians.

  6. 6
    Jello Brand says:

    “Do atheists know enough about the concept of God to reject it on rational grounds?”
    But who does know anything about ‘God’? We only have human words to describe God’s attributes, and we are often told that his ways are unknowable by us. And which definition of ‘God’ is correct? The Christian’s God? The Mayan’s God? Perhaps the Hindu Gods? Certainly targeting atheists for the igmorance we all share does not help bridge the gap between us.

  7. 7
    jurassicmac says:

    Kyrilluk:

    How can someone base his “faith” in the non-existence of God on a theory that doesn’t exist yet?

    I’ve always been confused by statements like this. How could someone have ‘faith’ that God doesn’t exist? An absence of belief in God would be a lack of faith. It doesn’t take any faith to not believe in the existence of something. No one has ‘faith’ that unicorns don’t exist. They simply don’t have faith that unicorns do exist. Atheism isn’t a religion any more than ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby.

    I’m of course not not implying that atheists are correct in any way; it just seems silly to call a ‘lack of belief’ a ‘belief.’

    I think much of this rests on a misunderstanding of how atheists describe their views. Even Dawkins is usually careful to point out that most atheists would never say they ‘believe that God doesn’t exist’. They would say, instead, that they ‘don’t believe God does exist.’ These two statements are very different in meaning but often confused.

    Again, it doesn’t take any ‘faith’ to not believe in something. (especially something that isn’t empirically verifiable by nature)

  8. 8
    HouseStreetRoom says:

    jurassicmac @7

    Hello,

    I would say that agnosticism applies to what you’re describing. However, the admission of the skeptic (“strong” agnosticism and atheism etc.) does not remove the burden of argument from such a position simply by it being skeptical. A belief is a belief and all take measures of faith, regardless of the positive or negative nature of the statement. I’m using faith in a very general sense. That is for a person to recognize/accumulate what they consider to be factual statements corresponding to reality (gathered from experience) and then organizing them into some coherent worldview (which cannot be entirely empirical, or entirely certain).

    I’ve noticed this position among skeptics; that is, the desire to attribute the burden of proof to those who believe in the positive sense, all the while not realizing that mere skepticism is not a position in a vacuum, but one that must be logically and rationally defended. I can be skeptical of skepticism, and the dogma that all dogmas are bunk is just as much a dogma. The fact is, Dawkins (and others like him) write entire books devoted to debunking with rabid skepticism the notions of belief and faith. If you don’t want to call that “religious zeal” like I do, that’s fine.

    In the end, I’m not too concerned about how we classify it: a lack of faith that God exists, or faith that one’s world view – which holds/implies God’s non-existence – is the right one. It seems semantic – that is, one inevitably leads to the other. Throwing one’s hands in the air and saying “I just don’t know” is acceptable I suppose, but would not provide much intellectual comfort or satisfaction. What I’ve always tried to stress is that regardless your position, it’s one you should attend to very carefully and with the utmost honesty. These are the kinds of issues that ultimately determine how you will choose to live through this mortal coil (in a more modern sense: “this thing we call life”). I know you’d agree that they’re never to be taken lightly, the skeptic included.

    This is just a round-about way of saying I’m more interested in what is and is not true, and less so about exempting belief systems of criticism.

    Have a good day!
    HSR

  9. 9
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Jurassicmac,

    “I think much of this rests on a misunderstanding of how atheists describe their views. Even Dawkins is usually careful to point out that most atheists would never say they ‘believe that God doesn’t exist’. They would say, instead, that they ‘don’t believe God does exist.’ These two statements are very different in meaning but often confused.

    Again, it doesn’t take any ‘faith’ to not believe in something. (especially something that isn’t empirically verifiable by nature)”

    Your last statement implies belief. That belief is that truth must be empirically verifiable by nature. This is where the atheist faith lies. Disbelief in God is irrelevant. What is relevant is the world view that holds that mere observations of the material world give us the facts we need to know about reality.

    Also, your entire post begs the question of whether there is evidence for the existence of God, which the atheists simply ignore. Now if there is evidence for the existence of God, which can be verified through reason, then atheism is not simply the disbelief in God, but a belief that the reasonable evidence is lacking. That requires faith in itself.

  10. 10
    jurassicmac says:

    CannuckianYankee,

    It does not take ‘faith’ to not believe in unicorns. It does not take ‘faith to not believe in Santa. It does not take ‘faith to not believe someone when they say they’ve been abducted by aliens.

    Your last statement implies belief. That belief is that truth must be empirically verifiable by nature.

    My statement does not imply belief; It implies a lack of belief. Any claim of truth or fact must be empirically verifiable if you expect others to accept them as being true as well. I can claim that I have an invisible ghost elephant named Mortimer living in my shoe who is not detectible by any known means. This may or not be true; but it is certainly not empirically verifiable. When you say you don’t believe my claim, I can wave my hands and accuse you of having a metaphysical bias against non-empirical evidence because you have a ‘religious’ belief that truth claims ‘must be empirically verifiable’. But your doubt of Mortimer’s existence is a lack of belief, not an equal, alternate belief.

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    JM:

    Please, take a pause and read here for a 101 on the relationship between faith and reason.

    Faith is foundational to all worldviews [as well as — in a post Godel, post Kuhn, post Lakatos world — to mathematics and science], including secularist ones that pride themselves on how hard headedly skeptical they are.

    GEM of TKI

  12. 12
    zeroseven says:

    HouseStreetRoom;

    “Throwing one’s hands in the air and saying “I just don’t know” is acceptable I suppose, but would not provide much intellectual comfort or satisfaction.”

    I disagree. I think that’s a much more satisfying position, and the only honest position, when you really don’t know something. From that position, enquiry follows, and the possibility of answers.

  13. 13
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Jurassicmac,

    If I disbelieve that Obama is the current president of the united states, that requires faith against the evidence. Your argument does not hold. Atheism is merely faith against the evidence for a personal God. To try to redefine the terms does not negate that fact.

  14. 14
    zeroseven says:

    KF & CY;

    So to be specific. Do you consider your position that the god Thor does not exist a faith based position?

  15. 15
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Jurassicmac,

    Furthermore, the belief that truths must be empirically verifiable is itself faith based. We’re getting back to issues regarding first principles again here.

    You seem to have a misconception of what faith means. In the Judaeo-Christian sense of the word, faith is belief in what is reasonable. It does not mean faith in what is obviously unreasonable and irrational.

    Beginning with that, your invisible ghost elephant is irrelevant.

  16. 16
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Zeroseven,

    Yes. That the god Thor does not exist is based in faith. Faith is belief in what is reasonable. It is not reasonable in our contemporary time to believe in the god Thor.

    It is not unreasonable to believe in a personal God who created everything. It is entirely within reason to believe that He exists.

    By my assertion that disbelief in Thor is faith based, I’m actually giving you something here. That is that disbelief in a god, while faith based, is not necessarily contrary to reason. Thor at one time may have been a perfectly reasonable god to believe in. At the present time, however, disbelief in such a god is perfectly reasonable, but it is no less faith based.

  17. 17
    jurassicmac says:

    CannuckianYankee:

    If I disbelieve that Obama is the current president of the united states, that requires faith against the evidence. Your argument does not hold.

    CY, I’m not sure you read my argument at all: What part of Obama’s Presidency isn’t empirically verifiable? You can both verify his existence, (you can meet him in person, talk to him, shake his hand) and verify his title. (You can read the official documents that declare him president, you could interview Rick Warren, who swore him in, etc.) I’m not sure how you equate that to an invisible ghost elephant who lives in a shoe.

    It does take faith to believe in something when all the empirical evidence points to the contrary; no one is arguing otherwise. It does not take faith to disbelieve in something that has no, or little, supporting empirical evidence.

  18. 18
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Jurassicmac,

    Another observation in light of your proposition of a ghost elephant named Mortimer, is the fact that such a ghost does not have a significant epistemological history, while the Christian God does.

    For the common philosophical atheist to say that they simply disbelieve in the Christian God requires that they reject the epistemological history of the Christian God. It’s not simply that they’ve never heard arguments for a god, and so they “disbelieve” in such. It’s that they categorically dismiss the epistemological history of such a god.

    So there’s two things going on here:

    1) They do not believe that the epistemological history of the Christian God is valid.

    2) They believe that the materialistic explanations for existence are sufficient.

    To claim that there is no faith or belief required here is simply false.

  19. 19
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Jurassicmac,

    I did not say that something does not need to be empirically verifiable. I said that belief in empirical verification requires belief. It all stems from first principles. We don’t know that everything must be empirically verifiable apart from our belief that empirical verification is reasonable. Without that belief, we can go no further. As I stated before, faith (for the Christian) is belief in what is reasonable, not in what is not reasonable and illogical.

    Furthermore, you make my point for me. Obama’s presidency is empirically verifiable. To not believe in him requires belief in what is not reasonable.

    Now if you’re going to go and say that the God of Christianity is not empirically verifiable, then you’re begging the question. There is as much reasonable evidence for the existence of God as there is for the fact that Obama is president. The moment you begin to argue that there is not, you are exercising your belief that there is not.

    Thus, atheism is not simply the disbelief in something, but the disbelief in the verifiability of the epistemological history of the Judaeo-Christian God specifically, but more universally in the epistemological history of any deity. Disbelief is not the opposite of belief in this sense. It is belief to the contrary.

  20. 20
    HouseStreetRoom says:

    zeroseven @12,

    I think you may have partially misunderstood (due to my bad phrasing no doubt). If one is just beginning his/her inquiry into metaphysics, philosophy and theology, then sure, it’s an acceptable position. But to go no further than this, constantly shoving these matters to the back of one’s mind – to pursue vain things, say – is just willful ignorance.

    Anyway, having the humility to recognize our intellectual limitations is indeed healthy (I’m not necessarily referring to epistemology: I believe we can confidently know a great deal).

    Nicely done CY.

  21. 21
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Thanks HSR,

    I thought you were going to address specifically 07’s statement concerning not knowing something, where he/she disagreed with you.

    Clearly to not know something is less satisfactory than knowing something. In this you did not say that it’s important to claim to know something in cases where you don’t. There’s a difference here; so I fail to understand his/her objection.

    I sense in this statement…. “I think that’s a much more satisfying position, and the only honest position, when you really don’t know something. From that position, enquiry follows, and the possibility of answers”

    ….. a “god-of-the-gaps” protestation. IOW, To believe in God means that we can fill in all the gaps of what we don’t know with “god did it,” thus satisfying our ignorance. I wonder what Newton thought about that.

  22. 22
    CannuckianYankee says:

    07,

    In case you haven’t taken KF’s advice at #11, I lead you to part of what he cited, and perhaps we can discuss this, since it’s relevant to the OP:

    “Reason embeds faith: We have seen above, that reason and belief — indeed, faith — are inextricably intertwined in our thought lives. In G K Chesterton’s words, “It is idle to talk always of the alternatives reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith.” [cited, Clarke, p. 123.] For, if we must inevitably take some things on trust, we cannot escape exerting faith; i.e. the question is not whether we have faith, but: in what or in whom should we repose our trust?”

    It seems to me that the atheist trusts in certain propositions against others. This trust then is an example of faith that such a proposition is more reasonable or trustworthy than others. The atheist does not know beyond doubt that such propositions are true, for then the atheist would have to claim infinite knowledge. At some point the atheist would have to say “I don’t know everything, but based on what I do know, this seems more likely than the other.” Without having the infinite knowledge to know beyond doubt, the atheist is exercising faith.

  23. 23
    CannuckianYankee says:

    07,

    This leads us back to your disagreement with HSR. What you appear to imply is that because there are gaps in our knowledge, it is unreasonable to fill in such gaps with God. Well quite frankly, somewhere down the line we are forced to fill in gaps with something.

    Let’s take basic arithmetic, for example. We learn it when we are young, and we have very little knowledge of the history behind mathematics, and how it came to be that 1+1=2. We don’t have to know all the history of how humans came to understand that 1+1=2. All we simply need to understand is the reason behind the equation. If we take one thing and add it to another we have two things. There may be huge gaps of knowledge for why this and other mathematical equations are true when we are young. This does not render the equations false; it simply demonstrates that we can know things without all the necessary inbetween gaps, which inevitably limit our knowledge. It’s no different with atheism than it is with theism.

    To claim that the theists can’t be right because they tend to fill in the gaps of their knowledge with God, is then inconsistent. Atheists fill in gaps all the time. They might not fill them in with a god or gods, but they fill them in none the less. An example of how atheists fill in gaps: trust that in the future we will know something that we don’t currently know. This is reasonable, but it is still a gap in knowledge. If they did not do this, they would not have the basis for making claims of truth, because they could not accept even their own propositions, due to the inevitable gaps in knowledge.

    Theists prefer to fill in the gaps with God until the gaps can be filled with more verifiable and precise knowledge, simply because to theists, God is the ultimate reality, which makes all other realities reasonable. We do this based partly on verifiable observation, as well as on the same philosophical first principles by which we determine that other rational explanations for even physical phenomenon are reasonable.

    The one thing that theists do differently than atheists is to not assume that if a gap is filled in with something other than God, this means that God was not involved. It simply means that there is a regress of events, which led to such an event, and part of that regress has now been answered. But ultimately that regress of events started somewhere from a first cause. As I stated, God is the ultimate reality for the theist, and that reality is based in the very basic first principles by which all other truths become so. So for the theist a gap is just that, but it does not negate God once it is filled in.

    Atheists seem to believe that the more knowledge we acquire, the less need we have for God. I would say that it’s the complete opposite. The more knowledge we acquire, the more God seems reasonable, for we begin to understand more fully that each event in the regress of events tells us something about the inevitable and ultimate first cause.

  24. 24
    zeroseven says:

    CY, KF;

    I don’t agree with your definition of faith. Are you saying that your faith in the Christian God is the same kind of thing as my lack of belief in Jurassicmac’s invisible elephant?

    HSR, I agree with your second paragraph. Not sure what you mean by the first one sorry.

  25. 25
    zeroseven says:

    CY @ 23;

    “Well quite frankly, somewhere down the line we are forced to fill in gaps with something.”

    This is where we differ. I am prepared to accept there are things we will never know.

  26. 26
    CannuckianYankee says:

    07,

    Re: 25:

    Yes, and what we don’t know we fill in with whatever metaphysical beliefs we have. We don’t simply leave them blank.

    For example, you don’t believe in God. So certain areas which beg for belief in God, you simply fill in with your metaphysical beliefs in order to counter belief in God. I think initial atheist response to the Big Bang theory is an example of this. I’m not expecting you to agree with this, but I use it as an example, because when the Big Bang was first posited, many scientists did not agree with it on metaphysical grounds; i.e., they filled in their gap of knowledge regarding Big Bang cosmology with a certain metaphysical assumption that it could not mean that God did it; while other scientists who accepted it and did not believe in God did pretty much the same thing, and came up with explanations contrary to the implications. Scientists who already believed in God simply accepted it as further evidence for their belief. Either way, there were gaps in knowledge. Those gaps weren’t simply ignored, but were filled in with whatever metaphysical position one took.

    Now regarding 24:

    It doesn’t really matter whether you agree with our definition of faith. That is the definition we stand by on grounds of reason. On what grounds do you disagree?

    Actually I’m glad that you mentioned this, because it seems like a major factor in our disagreement, and I’d like to understand exactly what your definition of faith is.

    Based on past assertions from atheists on what faith means, I could reasonably guess that your definition is thus:

    Faith is belief in what cannot be empirically validated, further qualifying “empirically validated” as that which can be observed in nature, and quantified through experimentation. I take this on faith based on experience that this is (or is close to) your position on the definition of faith.

    This is not; however, how most Christian theists view faith. And I say “most Christian theists,” because I know and have experience with Christian theists who do share your definition; but it is a false definition in light of scripture. There are Christians who say “God said it and I believe it, and that’s all that’s needed.” Most thinking Christians require a lot more than that for faith. If that were all that was required for faith, then we wouldn’t have thousands of years of theological debates among theists. We would just accept it all on blind faith. Most of us do not.

  27. 27
    StephenB says:

    —zeroseven: “This is where we differ. I am prepared to accept there are things we will never know.”

    Actually, you seem to take the position that there is nothing that we can know.

  28. 28
    zeroseven says:

    CY;

    I’ve never really tried to define it before, but I think something like this; a belief in something, where the belief is unaffected by empirical findings about the object of the belief, and where the belief assumes a structural importance in a person’s life – ie decisions are made and behaviours are adopted based on that belief.

    SB: No I don’t go that far. I just think the sum total of our knowledge about the universe is still insignificant compared to what remains to be discovered.

  29. 29
    CannuckianYankee says:

    “Are you saying that your faith in the Christian God is the same kind of thing as my lack of belief in Jurassicmac’s invisible elephant?”

    Um, Kind of, yes. It is reasonable to NOT believe in Jurassicmac’s invisible ghost elephant. At the same time, it IS reasonable to believe in the Christian God. The only way atheists tend to disagree with this, at least in my experience is to suggest that belief in the invisible ghost elephant or flying spaghetti monsters or flying teacups is akin to belief in the Christian God. The error in these examples is the fallacy of the weak analogy, and also of the red herring. It’s a weak analogy because belief in the Christian God is not the same as belief in Jurassicmac’s recently made up invisible ghost elephant, or a flying spaghetti monster or teacup.

    As I stated earlier the Christian God has an epistemological history, which the other examples do not, and which the atheist renders invalid. The epistemological history does not make the Christian God true; it simply renders the other examples strawmen (or weak analogies). We don’t believe in something that we simply thought up a few minutes ago and is unreasonable. We believe in something that has an epistemological history and is reasonable. The burden of proof then, is on the atheist to show that belief in God is not reasonable, given the epistemological history against which the atheist disagrees with theism. Caution though, weak analogies like the flying spaghetti monster and invisible ghost elephants will not suffice.

  30. 30
    jurassicmac says:

    CY @ 19

    There is as much reasonable evidence for the existence of God as there is for the fact that Obama is president.

    That is quite a bold statement. I’m sure you don’t mean that there is as much empirical evidence for Obama being president as there is for the existence of God. Perhaps you could fill the rest of the human race in on this incontrovertible evidence we’ve been overlooking for thousands of years.

  31. 31
    jurassicmac says:

    zeroseven:

    So to be specific. Do you consider your position that the god Thor does not exist a faith based position?

    CY @ 16:

    Yes. That the god Thor does not exist is based in faith.</blockquote

    Oh, now I get it! Every thought requires 'faith'. Not believing in Santa requires 'faith'. Not believing in the Flying spaghetti monster requires 'faith.' Not believing that my mailbox will turn into marshmallows if I sneeze requires 'faith'.

  32. 32
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Jurassicmac,

    Actually you’ve answered the question I posed to 07. I asked him/her on what grounds he/she disagrees with me and KF on our definition of faith. I stated that on faith in my experiences with atheists, he/she would most likely answer that faith is belief in what is unreasonable. And here you are confirming just what I determined by reasonable faith, and contradicting that very evidence.

    It can mean belief or trust in that which is unreasonable or untrustworthy, but does not have to mean that. Faith is basically an act of trust. You start your car and drive on roads, which you know can be very dangerous, and upon which people can be killed.

    If you did not have faith in your own ability to safely drive your car and avoid the dangers, I dare say you wouldn’t drive. Nor would you take a bus or fly for that matter. You trust in your own ability as a driver or the abilities of others as drivers or pilots, because you have a reasonable belief that you or they are safe drivers or pilots. Do you have absolute proof of this? How could you?

    So then based on a reasonable estimation of certain factors; how many times the pilot has crashed an airplane (hopefully none), or how many speeding tickets the bus driver has, you make the determination to get on the bus or the airplane. Heck, we don’t even go that far. We trust that because the pilot wears a uniform, he’s been hired by the airlines, and the airlines only hire experienced pilots with a safety record. It’s pretty much the same with bus drivers and yes, even yourself.

    So I ask you; are we being reasonable or not when we get on an airplane or bus?

    Now faith in the god Thor is unreasonable, but it is still faith. If I believe in Thor, like I believe in the bus driver, I trust that Thor exists, and perhaps that he may provide for my needs or keep me safe. I don’t have any evidence that he will. But this is not what makes my believing him faith. My act of trust is what makes it faith; whether it’s reasonable or not.

    Now regarding:

    Me: “There is as much reasonable evidence for the existence of God as there is for the fact that Obama is president.”

    You: “That is quite a bold statement.”

    It is a bold statement, but it is not an uncommon statement as if theists have not been making such statements, and now all of a sudden CY is breaking ranks. What do you think Christian apologists like William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright have been up to these last couple of decades? That you pay little attention to their arguments does not render their arguments null and void as if to make such statements is anathema to reason. Christians have been arguing the existence of God quite strongly for millennia. It shouldn’t surprise you that I would make as bold a statement as they.

    Yes, every thought, which requires an element of trust requires faith. Faith is trust in the reasonableness of a proposition to the extent of action in light of that reasonableness. Therefore, if I believe that in order to accept something as true it must be empirically verified, I am acting on my trust that empirical verification is the means by which truth is known. That is faith. Therefore, to not believe in something, I am exercising the same trust in the exercise of empirically verifying a truth proposition as I would in confirming my belief in something that is reasonably valid.

    Furthermore, the person who still believes in the god Thor is not necessarily exercising unreasonable faith. He/she may be accepting that faith or trust in Thor is reasonable despite evidence to the contrary. That is what in psychiatry is called a delusion. But people with delusions are not entirely unreasonable. Believe me, I’ve worked with them enough to know this.

    Maybe this person does not possess the evidence to the contrary, or refuses to look at it for fear of angering Thor. For that person then, it is perfectly reasonable not to look at the evidence for not trusting Thor in order to avoid the perceived consequences. If you know anything about religious cults, this is how they are able to keep questions about the reasonable validity of the belief system from surfacing. They claim that God will strike you down if you don’t trust, or if you associate with certain people. So a person who refuses to look at contrary evidence may be acting very reasonably given their belief in the consequences.

    But I’m pretty much done with this discussion, because I perceive it leading to a further discussion on first principles of reason, which we’ve exhausted nearly to the point of infinity, and yet to which we still face unending and unreasonable objection, which isn’t surprising.

    Who was it on this board that said something like this: “to the principles we must go?”

  33. 33
    CannuckianYankee says:

    “Every thought requires ‘faith’. Not believing in Santa requires ‘faith’. Not believing in the Flying spaghetti monster requires ‘faith.’ Not believing that my mailbox will turn into marshmallows if I sneeze requires ‘faith’.”

    Even if the negation of these propositions were self-evident (which they are not), it would still require trust in the principles of right reason. Therefore, faith is still involved.

  34. 34
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks:

    In this thread, we are beginning to tread into the deep waters of worldview warrant on comparative difficulties across life option sets of first plausibles, i.e. what I have elsewhere called faith points. (The link is to the upgraded form of a course reader page for a course I gave some years back. Note the venue [and that this was a compulsory for graduation course], and then begin to think again on the notion that Christians are not interested in warrant for their beliefs and views.)

    Sorry, it therefore looks like a bit of epistemology 101 and worldview analysis 101 are called for.

    BTW, before going anywhere else, CY’s definition of faith as trust sufficient to act on it, is in fact in part a direct quote and in part a direct inference from the Bible:

    Rom 4: . . . [for the man who] trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness . . .

    Heb 11:6 . . . without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

    Now, the second step is to understand what knowledge is, on 2500 years of discussion.

    The best in-short description of most of what we accept as knowledge is:

    knowledge is well-warranted, credibly true belief.

    That is, knowledge is a particular species of belief, based on our trust — that word again — in the basis for accepting it as true, a basis which must follow good and reasonable criteria.

    Such reasonable criteria trace back to the first principles of right reason, and to the confidence we collectively have in our ability to correctly perceive the world as we experience it, internally — the transcendent, unified I that we all instinctively depend on — and the external world. If our inner world is untrustworthy, then confidence in our ability to accurately perceive and understand the external world collapses.

    Similarly, if we have a set of claimed first plausibles — the core of a worldview — that boils down to mistrusting the general credibility of our mind, perception of the external world and experience, it is self-referentially incoherent and absurd.

    Brains in vats worlds and the like can therefore be dismissed out of hand.

    Next, we must recognise that here is a key error that skeptics often make, which founding father of the modern theory of evidence, Simon Greenleaf simply termed “the error of the skeptic” and which we have found it convenient to descriptively term, selective hyperskepticism.

    The basic idea here is that one can always object to beliefs that one does not find attractive, but the issue is on what grounds do we disbelieve. If we find ourselves exerting a double-standard for warrant so that we have stacked the deck by demanding an unreasonable degree of warrant beyond what the nature of the case provides, we are in trouble. Mathematical claims require demonstrations relative to axioms, but recognising that in a post Godel world, axiomatic systems will be either incomplete or incoherent, and they can even be both. Mathematicians TRUST their axiomatic systems. In science, we have a lot of points where we must trust accuracy of perceptions, reports, the intelligibility of nature, the generality of natural law, the existence of reliable cause-effect patterns, etc etc. On history and in court, we have basic principles of evidence and sifting quality of claims, and the like. Selective hyperskepticism says “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” but by that means that what I don’t like, I will demand what by the nature of the case cannot be had. So, we see the double standard. We are in trouble.

    Double-trouble, actually: for in order to disbelieve what we should — on reasonable warrant — believe, we have already had to swallow something else that we should not have.

    Then, we can look at an abstract claim, A. This is accepted on a warranting basis B. But, why accept B? Thence, C, D . . .

    So, we face either an infinite regress [absurd], or a circle, or else we have to find a set of first plausibles, F, that can stand up to reasonable scrutiny.

    CY is correct above: the reality of the God of the Bible is actually stronger on the collective evidence across time — the epistemological history he points to — than the claim that Mr Obama is President of the USA.

    For instance, Mr Obama is generally accepted to be president, but there are actually fairly serious questions as to whether his qualification on birth was adequately demonstrated. For, the short-form birth certificate his publicists have used is actually not a particularly reliable document: one can get it, it seems even if one were not in actuality born in HI. [We need to go back to the old, printing press produced, hand written birth certificate with witnesses, maybe jazzed up for C21 with inks that have dated coded microparticles in them. Just like, I have a lot more confidence in old fashioned paper ballots than any of the modernised voting systems.]

    But, for most people, it is generally taken as acceptably warranted that Mr Obama is a natural born American.

    By the standards for trusting documents used in this case for so serious a decision as the holder of the US Presidency, the New Testament is an extremely well authenticated C1 historical document [and even by much tougher, courtroom tested standards], one that has astonishing evidence of its accuracy, even on minor incidental details mentioned in passing that the writers such as Luke could not have realised were going to be specifically checked archaeologically etc.

    In the case of 1 Cor 15:1 – 11, we have an AD 55 record of a standard creedal declaration taught to the Corinthians in AD 50, and tracing to the four leading men in the C1 church, in Jerusalem — where the key incidents described in it happened — in about 35 – 38 AD, i.e within 5 – 8 years of their public occurence. And of course the gospel and church based on those events started within walking distance of the physical evidence, and — highly significant, this — could not be stopped by hostile authorities, even by threats, beatings, imprisonment and judicial murder. Millions since have borne witness to life transforming encountering of God in the face of Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ, including the undersigned. And including some key figures in the history of our civilisation such as Pascal, Kelvin, Maxwell, Planck and Pasteur, just to name a few scientists.

    It gets stronger.

    1 Cor 15:1 – 11 points to fulfillment of prophecies of the scriptures, and in context Isa 53 is particularly in mind. This text, written prior to 700 BC — and we have two MSS from C2 or so BC thanks to the dead sea scrolls — specifically predicts a suffering servant messiah who would be despised and rejected, would work miracles of healing [and these have continued to happen in his name down to today, even for the undersigned, so I have enough back to sit up and type this, and the breath to do so as well], make his soul a sin offering and rise triumphant from ignoble death.

    As in what happened to Jesus of Nazareth on the strength of 500+ eyewitnesses, none of whom could be broken to recant, not even in the face of whips [think cat of nine tails with bone or lead tied in the thongs — an instrument of torture to crippling or death, not mere spanking], fire, stones and swords, or even crosses. (Paul was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down, James was murdered in Jerusalem in the gap between two governors, John “only” suffered double exile: from his homeland then from his adoptive homeland in his old age — how he came to be on Patmos.)

    There is of course a lot more, but let it suffice to say, I am far more confident of the grounds on which I accept that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose the third day with 500+ witnesses, than I am of the right of Mr Obama to be sitting in the Oval Office.

    (Ironically, if he would be willing to spend US$ 10, he could produce a long-form birth certificate that would remove all reasonable doubts. After several years and north of US$ 1mn in legal fees, he has not. Perhaps, the point is that — knowing the mainstream media are his best friends and allies, he figures to use the issue to help wedge off those who object as wackos, discrediting them on more central issues. I do know he is fully capable of that sort of deviousness, on track record. So, I freely confess to being a student in the Lucy Pevensie school of epistemology.)

    Okay, I trust this allows us to clear the rubble enough to begin to lay a sound foundation.

    GEM of TKI

  35. 35
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: On identifying and correcting selective hyperskepticism

  36. 36
    zeroseven says:

    KF:

    Oh no, you’re a birther!

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