04
Sep
07

My answer to the atheists

As some of you know, I am engaged in a life or death struggle with the atheists over on Matt’s Notepad. 😉 What began as an offhand remark on my part has evolved (there’s that word again) into a rather interesting debate. I took a few days off to re-examine my own positions and beliefs, and posted a rather lengthy reply to their several points. I must admit that what started off as a simple comment turned into one of my better posts, so I decided to post it here on my own blog as well. I realize that theology isn’t for everybody, but it is a subject that is of interest to me, and I guess I just needed to get this out of my system. And yes, I am trying to be funny with the picture.  If you want to follow this debate go to the post below and click the link.

I’ve taken a few nights off to sort of step back and evaluate what it is I believe and don’t believe. That in itself has certainly been a benefit of having joined in this debate. Having done so, I would like to make a few points, as well as respond, directly or indirectly, to some of the comments made previously.

First, I think it would be helpful to review just what we agree on, before venturing into the turbulent waters of disagreement. I am a staunch evolutionist. I am a believer in the scientific method as a whole. I believe that science, not religion, has taught us most of what we really know about the universe we happen to be a very, very small part of.

I have little patience with religious fundamentalists of any denomination. I deplore the way they dismiss rationale argument with an unwavering faith in the correctness of their beliefs, irrespective of any facts to the contrary. In this I am in complete agreement with Dawkins.

As I’ve stated before, I am NOT trying to prove the existence of God here. I know I can’t. In fact the only reason I’m using the word God instead of a phrase like “higher power” is because it’s easier to type.

But here’s the crux of my argument: neither Dawkins nor anyone else can prove that he DOESN’T exist. Therefore in the absence of proof, the non-existence of God is not a fact, it is a belief, or, if you prefer, an opinion. Therefore atheism is merely a belief, albeit a belief in the non-existence of something. And as such, the proponents of this belief must accept the unpleasant truth that they MAY be wrong, just as adherents of traditional (and non-traditional) religious thought must also accept that their views on God and the universe may be wrong (although they rarely do, another point where I agree with Dawkins).

Please don’t hit me with the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” argument. The fact that I can’t disprove the existence of anything you happen to dream up on the spot (other than to make the fairly obvious point that it can’t exist because you just told me you made it up) in no way lets you off the hook here. Once you make the move from “I don’t believe there is a god” to “There is no god”, at that point you have ceased to state a negative . You have attempted to make an argument, and like all arguments, you have to have some proof, otherwise what you’re stating is not fact, it is opinion.

I asked you folks if you believed in any sort of higher power. You all replied in the negative. I asked if you believed in life on other planets. Your responses were:

“while intelligent life could exist on other planets, we honestly just don’t know enough about life or other planets to have any real clue.”

“Life? Life of some sort … good chance it exists somewhere in the universe. Probability tells us that. If it’s Intelligent … not enough data yet.”

And

“Intelligent life elsewhere in the universe – definitely more plausible.”

The reason I asked this was because I wanted to see to what extent you were willing to allow for the possibility of something existing, even if there were scant scientific evidence for it. And it seems that while there is little scientific evidence for the existence of intelligent life on other planets, you’re willing to at least consider it because, to you, it seems plausible, given the enormous number of planets in the universe. On this I happen to agree with you.

But once you’ve admitted the possibility of life elsewhere, then you must also allow for the possibility that this life is more advanced than us, not just in the technological sense, but also in the, yes, evolutionary sense. And once you’ve acknowledged that a higher form of life may exist in the universe, you have to ask, how much higher? Surely it is no great intellectual feat to imagine a form of life that exists on an infinitely higher plain than us. And if you allow for that, the notion of God is not really such a stretch, is it?

What I find truly fascinating about Dawkins is his willingness to accept the implausible when it’s convenient for his arguement. He writes: “The origin of life on this planet – which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule – is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions from those with which we are familiar. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable – in the sense of unpredictable – event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened.”

In other words, we don’t know. We may never know. So why is the notion of some sort of higher power so unthinkable, given the general lack of understanding that Dawkins admits is part and parcel of this issue?

Another quote: “It is as though there were, say, half a dozen dials representing the major constants of physics. Each of the dials could in principle be tuned to any of a wide range of values…. Almost all of these knob-twiddlings would yield a universe in which life would be impossible. You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs.”

This argument is self serving. Dawkins concludes that a “divine knob twiddler” is more improbable than the universe itself, merely because it doesn’t fit into his overall view of the universe. Dawkins and I agree: the universe is very, very, improbable. What Dawkins doesn’t seem (or want) to understand is that a reasonable, rational human being can look at this very improbability and come to a different conclusion about it than he has, one that includes the notion of a higher power.

And finally, there is this bit of musing: “Physicists already have reason to suspect that our universe – everything we can see – is only one universe among perhaps billions. Some theorists postulate a multiverse of foam, where the universe we know is just one bubble. Each bubble has its own laws and constants. Our familiar laws of physics are parochial bylaws. Of all the universes in the foam, only a minority has what it takes to generate life.”

Now let me see if I’ve got this straight: he says our universe is just a bubble amongst an infinite number of bubbles, and I’M living in fantasy land just because I happen to believe in a higher power of some kind?

The “multiple universe theory” is hardly new. But as things stand right now, while it is certainly fascinating, there is scant evidence for it, and more importantly, no way whatsoever of proving it by somehow discovering those other universes. As soon as Dawkins uses words like “suspect” and “postulate”, what he’s really saying is: “I don’t know. It just kind of makes sense to me”.

But as a means of factoring God out of the equation, the “anthropic principle” is a self-serving argument. It is a variation on the old idea that if you have an infinite number of monkeys pounding away on an infinite number of keyboards, eventually they will produce Shakespeare. This is patent nonsense. An infinite number of monkeys pounding away on an infinite number of keyboards will produce an infinite number of broken keyboards. But, say the adherents of the “anthropic principle”, what if we had an infinite number OF infinite numbers of monkeys…, etc.

Many scientists embrace this idea, but there also are many who don’t. Both groups seem to agree on one thing: it’s impossible to prove. But it may be impossible to disprove. Just like the existence or non-existence of God.

So Dawkin’s argument as to “why there is almost certainly no god” rests on the anthropic principal, which itself rests on an idea of multiple universes which even its proponents state is empirically unprovable. Apparently Richard Dawkins is free to make speculations about the universe that are unfounded by any scientific evidence, but no one else is. Surely my belief in some kind of a higher power, the nature of which I in no way claim to know, is no sillier than the notion that our universe is one of billions. Conversely, this speculation which he is ready to believe has no more evidence to support than my belief. So why are Dawkins’ beliefs more valid than mine? If it’s good enough for Dawkins, it’s good enough for me.

So that said, is it so unreasonable to look at the universe, with all it’s complexity AND its implausibility (as even Dawkins admits), to SPECULATE about the POSSIBILITY of the existence of some higher power?

I look at the universe, and I surmise the existence Something Intelligent. You look at the same universe, and you don’t. Who can really say, given how little we truly know about it, who is right?

That’s all I’m saying here. As I’ve stated before, it is not Dawkins’ atheism which bothers me. But like the religious fundamentalist, his unshakable belief in the correctness of HIS position is arrogant, disturbing even, and puts him squarely in the same category as a Jimmy Swaggart, even if he’s arguing the opposite point.

–smith

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34 Responses to “My answer to the atheists”


  1. September 4, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Had to happen sooner or later, does with me all the time. I start a comment as a an observation or opinion and before I know it, it’s post.

    Yeah we’re both just a couple of troublemakers. 😉

    I’ve been thinking about the entire religion question a bit, not so much as to where I stand personally but more around the social impact. Especially young people are re-/joining church. Religion has always been a good place once too much freedom becomes intimidating. Seems to me that especially our youth is looking for some stability and guidance, which in a sad or good way (depending on which side of the argument you stand) they are finding in religion. Or maybe it’s not so much stability but a value system they are looking for, since technology and entertainment just can’t seem to fill that void. Strange, strange……

    Yet another problem I have with Dawkins (and one that I really haven’t touched on here) is how points out all the evils religion has created (and I really can’t argue with him here), while patently ignoring the vast amount of good that has come about from religion.

    -sps

  2. 2 Joe
    September 4, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    The key issue is that we have no idea what may or may not exist outside the universe. The theist presumes to know what is there. They not only speculate that there is a higher power, but proclaim to know details of his personality.

    That is a blanket statement, and, as such, is invalid. Surely you’re not saying that all “theists” think alike, do you? Personally I would be rather insulted if you said I think like Jimmy Swaggart (yeesh!)

    The atheists realize that the only reasonable position is the lack of belief in any such beings. Whether there is a “higher power” or not the reasonable belief given the evidence we have is atheism.

    So you’re saying that only atheists are reasonable? I believe in God, but most people, (including another atheist who left a comment here) think I’m pretty reasonable. Perhaps this is because, unlike Dawkins, I respect others’ beliefs, and don’t belittle those who disagree with me.

    -sps

  3. September 4, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Alrighty… you seem like a reasonable fellow

    Thank you. I try.

    , so I’ll give a response a try. As for the whole “alien life” question. I’d answer it like this–

    I venture outside my door, and immediately encounter life. I encounter life of numerous varying forms all the way down the street, continuing into the countryside. Indeed, walking to the edge of the continent, I see lifeforms of all kinds. I cross the ocean, seeing lifeforms still. Others who have travel more extensively than I send reports of life amongst some of the most extreme conditions my planet has to offer. Life on other planets? Seems quite likely.

    So far I’d say we’re on the same wavelength with this.

    As for God… if you manage to whittle God down as you have to something like an unknowable being of no continuing importance and no discernible attributes that resembles NOTHING like any religion describes him, what’s the point of continuing to believe in God? I’m with you, if we make the definition of God some sort of moot being, we can believe or not believe in him with no difference or consequence whatsoever.

    Hmm. Now THAT is an interesting point. My own religious beliefs are, as you may have surmised, rather unorthodox. The atheists aren’t the only ones I piss off: fundamentalist Christians don’t like me very much either. 😉 Dawkins states repeatedly that religion creates evil. I disagree. It is the rigid adherence to religious belief, not religion itself, that causes many of the ills which have plagued and continue to plague the world. While I reject Dawkins’ militant brand of atheism, I also reject religious dogma at least as strenously. The idea is not to “believe with no consequence” if I may paraphrase you, but rather to believe without creating any harmful consequences.

    What I would suggest is that allowing the belief in this sort of moot being to influence your life or thinking AT ALL is pointless. I don’t think this extremely limited definition of God is what inspires you or anyone else to believe in it– seems to me that if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll find you put many more attributes and qualities to this being than your definition allows.

    Oh, absolutely! You are completely correct here. My own view of God is not as amorphous as all that. I have religious beliefs, and I have reasons for believing in God, which I may post at a later date. I simply don’t believe in ramming my beliefs down other people’s throats, which is what both religious fundamentalists and atheists of Dawkins’ ilk do. I should hasten to add that not ALL atheists are like Dawkins, just as not all theists are like, say, Jimmy Swaggart. (has anyone noticed that Swaggart gets kicked around almost as much as Dawkins does around here?) 😉

    -sps

  4. 4 avalonassociation
    September 4, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    “The atheists realize that the only reasonable position is the lack of belief in any such beings. Whether there is a “higher power” or not the reasonable belief given the evidence we have is atheism.”

    So true, if we were sheep

    Baa-aa-aa! 😉

  5. 5 Bad
    September 4, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Murder, I don’t feel like you’ve listened. You’ve made points about atheists and Dawkins that people have told you are straw men… and yet you’ve gone on to harp on those straw men anyway. Most atheists do not claim to know or be able to prove that there is no god. Even Dawkins does not claim this.

    With all due respect, it is I who feel that you haven’t read (or have not properly construed) what I have written. As far as my points being “straw men”, you have said that, but you have in no way demonstrated that my points are invalid. Simply calling my points “straw men” hardly qualifies as a logical argument. My points are quite valid, which is why I continue to “harp” on them. As far as what most atheists do or don’t do, it’s irrelevant to because I’m not talking about “most atheists”, I’m talking about Dawkins. How can you say that he does not claim to be able to prove that there is no god, when he writes a book called “The God Delusion”, and includes therein a chapter entitled “Why there is almost certainly no god”, in which he actively seeks to prove that God doesn’t exist? Sorry, Bad, but that particular atheist is very much claiming that he can prove God doesn’t exist.

    What we do claim is that in the absence of a compelling reason to believe God exists, we do not believe. This is not, in and of itself, a belief. It’s just a reality for us: we don’t have god beliefs in the way that you do. This isn’t based on any belief or argument in and of itself. It’s god belief that must be based on beliefs and arguments, and from our perspective, we haven’t come across any that are convincing.

    When you state it that way, I have no problems with it. The problem I have is with people like Dawkins who take a much more aggressive stance in their approach to atheism.

    You already misrepresented one Dawkins quote, as I showed in the other thread, and I think you are here misreading him again. You are not following why he speculates about various things: the purpose is to illustrate that there are many many other possibilities than theists seem to allow for, and appealing to the “unknown” cuts both ways. Again, if you understand that his purpose is not to definitively prove that there is no God, but rather to cut down all the arguments that theists make about why WE should BELIEVE that there is, what he’s saying makes a lot more sense than how you’ve portrayed his arguments.

    If Dawkins stuck to blowing holes in things like creationism, not only would I have no problem with him, I’d be right there with him. But what you seem to be ignoring is that Dawkins brand of atheism is almost a form of evangelism in itself. It’s not enough for Dawkins that he be left free to believe as he likes. Dawkins goes out of his way to convert the rest of the world to his views. (Or is there perhaps some other reason for his publishing nine books on this subject?)

    You seem to think that merely being able to speculate that a God exists is tantamount to proving Dawkins wrong. But that’s nonsense: Dawkins would argue that anyone can at any time speculate that a God or “higher being” is responsible for something, ANYTHING… and yet none of this is actually the same thing as providing a REASON to think that.

    I have lots of reasons for believing in God. I have not really gone into that simply because this post is not about what I believe (although I could see myself posting something like that at some future date). I am simply stating that Dawkins’ fervent belief in his view of the universe is simply that: a belief, and as such he and others like him need to show a little more respect for those who don’t believe as he does.

    Worse, as Dawkins never tires of pointing out, the appeals to higher beings never really explain anything in any case. They don’t explain how something was done. They don’t explain for what reasons it was done, if we assert that the being was purposeful. And ultimately, all they do is invent ad hoc an even BIGGER mystery in order to solve a mystery: creating more problems than we set out to solve… without even really solving the first problem!

    Which, I would add, is an obvious flaw in the anthropic principle, relying as it does on a premise which even its proponents admit is unprovable.

    By, apparently, thinking that Dawkins is actually saying that you must believe in, say, multiverses, you’ve missed the thrust of the argument. The point is merely to show that one thing (i.e. the supposed fine tuning of the universe) does not, in fact, at all imply one and only one conclusion (God) and as such FAILS AS AN ARGUMENT for God. That’s the point of what he’s talking about.

    I understand what he is trying to say. But the fact remains he fails to make his arguement in a convincing way. As soon as Dawkins uses words like “suspect” and “postulate”, he immediately treads on the same shaky ground as the rest of us.

    I happen to disagree with both of you about the improbability of the universe by the way: I don’t think we have any useful data or conceptual framework by which to make such a determination. It’s like trying to calculate the odds of a dice roll when you do not know how many sides the die has or even what sorts of numbers are on the die.

    Ummm, ok. I’ll buy that.

    Bad, I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to visit my blog, where, as it turns out, I AM God. 😉 If you’re ever in Boston, I’ll be happy to buy you a drink or two and we can discuss something really important: why God is a Red Sox fan, and how the fact that the Yankees have won 26 championships constitutes proof of the validity of Manichaeanism. 😉

    Be well.

    -sps

  6. 6 Bad
    September 5, 2007 at 2:39 am

    Sorry, Bad, but that particular atheist is very much claiming that he can prove God doesn’t exist.

    Did you read the chapter? Did you note the “almost” and his discussion of it and why its there? Did you read his explanation of why he calls god belief a delusion? None of these issues are as simple as you portray them, which is why I call them straw men. He isn’t calling god belief a delusion because he claims he can prove there is no god: it’s because he argues with the idea that there is any good reason to believe this: making those beliefs empirically unjustified.

    Yes, of course I read it. Yes, you can argue that blowing holes in the argument for god is not in itself and attempt to prove god doesn’t exist, but if that’s not the intent, why even bother? He calls his book “The God DELUSION“(emphasis mine). The chapter is called “Why there almost certainly is no god” (emphasis mine). This sounds very much to me like a man who’s out to prove something.

    I also, in the other thread, pointed out specifically how you had misrepresented a Dawkins quote. I don’t think you’ve responded to that, but I think my arguments there were pretty darn conclusive. If you’ve mistaken him there, why not elsewhere as well?

    Even if your charge of misprepresntation were true, your argument would be a logical non-starter. It goes: “Smith was wrong about X. Therefore he is wrong about everything.” Doesn’t really fly, does it? The quote I believe you’re referring to is the one in which he said creationists “don’t mind being beaten in an argument. What matters is that we give them recognition by bothering to argue with them in public.” I’m sorry, but that strikes me as arrogant. If a Creationist had said that you’d be outraged. If you don’t see it that way then I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. If he had just said something like “Creationists give me a headache and frankly, I just don’t have the time”, that would’ve been fine. But the problem I continue to have with Dawkins and his ilk is that they simply don’t see that their unshakable faith in the correctness of a position that must by definition remain theoretical and conjectural is analogous to that of any religious fanatic.

    It’s not enough for Dawkins that he be left free to believe as he likes. Dawkins goes out of his way to convert the rest of the world to his views. (Or is there perhaps some other reason for his publishing nine books on this subject?)

    His books virtually all make arguments for particular things (like evolution) and against the claims of others to know things he argues that they cannot justify. And I don’t get your complaint about him advocating a point of view either. Virtually everyone in the world makes arguments arguing for things, including yourself (apparently, you don’t agree with Dawkins, but it’s not just enough to not agree, you have to go and try to convince others with ARGUMENTS about how he is wrong: how dare you!)

    Ummm, OK, you sort of got me on that one. 😉 But I don’t tell you you’re “deluded” because you disagree with me. I have no problem with him expressing his opinions (as I have said many times by now I agree with much of what he says.) But you seem to want to portray him as some kind of passive, “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of atheist, and he strikes me as anything but. He equates teaching religion to children with child abuse. Blowing holes in religious dogma is one thing, but his sweeping condemnations of anything to do with religion is another. I would add that his pointing out the evil things that have been done in the name of religion does not invalidate the whole concept, but merely demonstrates how the concept can be perverted by humans.

    As soon as Dawkins uses words like “suspect” and “postulate”, he immediately treads on the same shaky ground as the rest of us.

    Again, that is only the case if you misrepresent the thrust of his arguments. He’s attacking the justifications given for belief in those passages. Presenting them as speculation he’s asserting we should find convincing in and of itself is to misrepresent what the argument is attempting to establish.

    Here are his exact words:

    You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs.

    Again, the anthropic principle delivers its devastatingly neat solution. Physicists already have reason to suspect that our universe – everything we can see – is only one universe among perhaps billions. Some theorists postulate a multiverse of foam, where the universe we know is just one bubble.

    So Dawkins finds the explanation of a “divine knob-twiddler” to be “vacuous” and “improbable”, but the solution offered by the anthropic principle is “devastingly neat”. I’m not misrepresenting anything; those are his exact words. This is Dawkins’ attempt to answer the “improbability of the universe”. But the problem with the “anthropic principle” is that it relies on the existence of an infinite (or at least very large) number of universes to work, and this is an unprovable theory, which even its proponents admit. So now Dawkins violates his own modus operandi by speculating about something that there is no evidence for, simply to bolster his argument.

    Many people have viewed the very improbability of the universe as evidence of its creator. Dawkins comes along and offers an alternative theory. Fine. But even he admits it’s speculation, nothing more. So why is Dawkins entitled to speculate about the universe, but not me? Is the theory of the multiverse really any less strange than the theory of God? I concede that my belief in God is unprovable. But so is the theory of the multiverse. This becomes important the moment Dawkins (or anyone) decides to postulate it as an alternative to the notion of God.

    Once again, if you or Dawkins or anyone simply wants to say “I don’t believe in God because I just don’t see enough evidence”, that’s fine. But once you move from “I don’t believe in God” to “There Is No God!”, once you state that your point of view is a self-evident fact, then you can no longer hide behind the “the burden of proof is on theists” argument. If you want to take the position that your opinion is fact, then you have to pony up some evidence. The anthropic principle fails in this regard.

    Speaking of the anthropic principle, I can turn that one on its ear: if it IS true that there is an infinite number of universes, with infinite possibilities, then it logically follows that there must be universes where God exists, and universes where he doesn’t since those are the two possibilities. I’m not saying I believe this, but it is the logical conclusion of the multiple universe premise. I guess that would make everyone happy, wouldn’t it? 😉

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating: it’s all a matter of interpretation. You and I both look at the universe. Like Dawkins, we both agree that our universe is both complex and highly improbable. And yet it’s here. We both think to ourselves, “something is clearly up with the universe”. And it is only here we part company. I look at the universe and I see the possibility (note my choice of words here) of Something Intelligent. You look at the same universe and you see the possibility of a multiverse, as Dawkins puts it. Since neither view is provable, both views are simply beliefs. Mine is no more, or less, valid than yours.

    BTW, nice editing. 🙂

    -sps

  7. 7 heatlight
    September 5, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Having been an atheist, and even an agnostic a few times in my life, I can honestly respect your doubts about the God of Christianity. I may be convinced, but I know the fragility of faith well enough to personally believe that this conviction comes ultimately from His work in my heart, and not from the power of my own intellect.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  8. 8 Joe
    September 5, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    I prefer in the future you reply to my comments instead of editing them. It is much more clear who is saying what that way. Thanks.

    Sorry, Joe, on this I’m afraid I can’t help you. Some people find my way easier, some don’t. Just to be clear, my responses are always in boldface, and I never, EVER, change anything you write. It’s all there, believe me. When you are quoting me, that appears in italics, unless you’ve already block-quoted me. Personally I find this way easier. It has to be easier for someone, and since this my blog, that someone is going to be me. I’m sure you understand.😉

    “That is a blanket statement, and, as such, is invalid. Surely you’re not saying that all “theists” think alike, do you? Personally I would be rather insulted if you said I think like Jimmy Swaggart (yeesh!)”

    Theists believe in god. On this you do think like Jimmy Swaggart. This is presuming evidence that you simply do not have.

    But that’s not what you originally said. You said, “The theist presumes to know what is there.” That is the blanket statement. And it’s incorrect. While I agree that there are theists who do think that way, I’m not one of them. I DON’T presume to know. So your argument seems to be: Smith believes in God. Jimmy Swaggart believes in God. Therefore Smith thinks like Jimmy Swaggart. It’s a logical non-starter.

    “So you’re saying that only atheists are reasonable?”
    No. I am saying only atheist are reasonable in their view on the god question. If I thought otherwise I would hardly be an atheist.

    To which I would answer that anyone who says that his position alone is the reasonable one is, by definition, unreasonable. The fact that you don’t believe in God by no means demonstrates his non existence.

    “I believe in God, but most people, (including another atheist who left a comment here) think I’m pretty reasonable. Perhaps this is because, unlike Dawkins, I respect others’ beliefs, and don’t belittle those who disagree with me.”

    I have no doubt that you are a very reasonable person. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I will not defend Dawkins, only myself.

    Fair enough. As I said in my above response to Bad, it’s a matter of interpretation.

    -sps

  9. September 5, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Haha,
    had to laugh about your and Bad’s correspondence. Funny how you brought up the ‘buy you a drink card’. Seems that’s the way blog truces work 😉 . WC owes me 27! 8)

    And Bad still hasn’t taken me up on it. Must be a Yankee fan. 😉

  10. September 5, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    I like how you put your comments to their comments right under the part you’re commenting on. It makes it easier to follow and compare the two arguments.

    I agree. That seems to be the convention among this little circle of bloggers, and it works for me.
    But I’d still rather read poetry.

    Thanks. I’ll get back to that, fear not. 😉

    However, I would like to see a post on your reasons for believing in God.

    I’m working on that one, too. But as you might imagine, something like that takes a lot of thought.

  11. September 5, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    a well reasoned article

    Thank you.

    and a well formatted response system. with so many lengthy replies it does make it easier to follow and it ensures that you respond to every point posted to you.

    That’s how I feel. Apparently some don’t agree.

    i am a theist, always have been, and i share your frustration with fundamental extremists – because they really do give the rest a bad rap.

    extremists of ALL sorts give their fellow, more moderate adherents, a bad rap.

    as for crying *straw man* i find that’s kinda the atheist equivalent of a religious man’s sacred cow. ie – not to be touched. or maybe more accurately, the equivalent of asking about blatant contradictions between faith statements and proven science.

    Good point. “Straw man” seems to be a common catch phrase with them. I guess even atheists have sacred cows.

    the faithful just don’t usually want to touch it and are quick to cry foul if it’s brought up.

    i once got kicked out of a sunday school class for suggesting that god created evolution. i suppose i might get kicked out of atheist class for saying the same thing

    the problem with being a moderate is that you piss off twice as many people.

    Thanks for stopping by, and for some intelligent comments.

  12. September 5, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    I just know that I don’t know and leave it at that.

    That’s probably the best way

  13. 13 Red
    September 5, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    I will now gracefully bow out of the conversation.

    Awww, c’mon Red! We’re just getting warmed up here! 😉

  14. September 6, 2007 at 11:13 am

    May be easier for you, but it loses me.

    Ciao!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  15. September 6, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Well, wordpress basic doesn’t allow editing, previews, etc. 🙂

    Yes, you can argue that blowing holes in the argument for god is not in itself and attempt to prove god doesn’t exist, but if that’s not the intent, why even bother?

    Uh, to refute the claims being made and show that they are being made without reasonable basis? Hence to demonstrate that the reasons given for belief are false?

    Now you’re just being pedantic. “demonstrat(ing) that the reasons given for belief are false” is tantamount to attempting to prove the belief invalid. Same thing. Really, we’re just bantering semantics here.

    This sounds very much to me like a man who’s out to prove something.

    Yes: to prove that all the claims that we must believe that there is a god are false, and in fact there is no reason to believe such a thing.

    Two different things here. Shooting holes in proofs for the existence of God does not disprove the existence of God, it only proves that the argument is somehow flawed.

    Even if your charge of misrepresentation were true, your argument would be a logical non-starter. It goes: “Smith was wrong about X. Therefore he is wrong about everything.” Doesn’t really fly, does it?

    But then, I didn’t present it as a logical argument as to why you must be wrong, did I: but as a reason for you to consider the possibility.

    So you at least admit it’s not a logical argument? Fair enough.

    The quote I believe you’re referring to is the one in which he said creationists “don’t mind being beaten in an argument. What matters is that we give them recognition by bothering to argue with them in public.” I’m sorry, but that strikes me as arrogant. If a Creationist had said that you’d be outraged.

    You’ve now simply restated your original claim, completely ignoring (and as far as I can tell, not even acknowledging!) the explanation I gave for why your interpretation of it was wrong. Once again:

    1) Dawkins isn’t arguing that scientists shouldn’t engage creationist arguments. This is key to your interpretation of him being arrogant, and yet this interpretation doesn’t make any sense, since Dawkins and others always have and always have continued to discuss and debate creationist arguments.
    2) The quote is in regard to a particular sort of public forum: a quick media-style debate. After many experiences with these, Dawkins became convinced that their purpose was not to seriously debate ideas, but rather to help creationists gain publicity for their views.
    3) There is nothing arrogant about objecting to being used in this way by opponents you think are acting disreputably.

    In short, you have taken a quote out of its original context and then misrepresented what it was talking about (taking it to be a general statement about simply ignoring all creationist arguments altogether).

    I’m going to give you this one. After checking out some of the other blogs you were kind enough to recommend, I am forced to admit that, at least in comparison, Dawkins is fairly civil. It doesn’t really take away from my overall point, which I’ll get to below.

    But the problem I continue to have with Dawkins and his ilk is that they simply don’t see that their unshakable faith in the correctness of a position that must by definition remain theoretical and conjectural is analogous to that of any religious fanatic.

    The problem I have with you is that you simply don’t see that your unshakable faith in the correctness of your position that must by definition remain theoretical and conjectural is analogous to that of any religious fanatic.

    Oh wait, is that not a fair statement to make about you? But hey: apparently just claiming the same about Dawkins is okay with you, despite a lack of evidence that this really is his position.

    Are you talking about my position on God or Dawkins here? As I’ve explained over and over, my only position on God is that I believe he exists. I make no further claims about God, and even on that one I’m far from doctrinaire. I’m prepared to accept the fact that I may be wrong, which is what make me different from Dawkins.

    I’ve read the book, and come to the conclusion that he feels that he KNOWS God does not exist, and feels that anyone who does believe in a higher power of any kind has some kind of problem. He may dance around it a bit, but his meaning is clear.

    I think you’re losing sight of my original premise, so I’ll repeat it here: while no one can prove the existence of God, neither Dawkins nor anyone else can prove that he DOESN’T exist. Therefore in the absence of proof, the non-existence of God is not a fact, it is a belief, or, if you prefer, an opinion. Therefore atheism is merely a belief, albeit a belief in the non-existence of something.

    Simply put: just as the theist does not KNOW that God exists (let alone anything about the nature of that God), the atheist does not KNOW that there is no God. Yes, you can blow holes in the dogmas of individual religions (as Robert Heinlein once wrote “one man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh), but as far as the big question goes, while you may look at the universe and conclude that it does not present enough evidence to convince you of the existence of any sort of Higher Power, there is no way you can claim to KNOW. And since the atheist can’t know, he simply believes, just like the rest of us.

    He equates teaching religion to children with child abuse.

    Again, if you actually read the portion of the book in which he says this, it turns out that it’s not so simple as you claim. First of all, he doesn’t say that all religion is child abuse: he is specifically talking about teaching children the doctrine of hell, and he says this based on a woman that wrote to him who explained that while she was sexually abused as a child, being told that her childhood friend was burning in hell was far more traumatic.

    Nevertheless, his choice of words clearly implies a point of view.

    Many people have viewed the very improbability of the universe as evidence of its creator. Dawkins comes along and offers an alternative theory. Fine. But even he admits it’s speculation, nothing more. So why is Dawkins entitled to speculate about the universe, but not me?

    He didn’t say you weren’t entitled to speculate: he said that you weren’t entitled to conclude. That is what you are missing, over and over.

    Why am I not entitled to conclude? Because you and Dawkins don’t agree with my conclusion? But apparently Dawkins is allowed to conclude, and he does, emphatically. And please do NOT try to tell me that that is not what he is doing. His own words, “the anthropic principle delivers its devastatingly neat solution”, make it abundantly clear that he has indeed reached a conclusion. But, just like the God hypotheses, it is a conclusion based on a theory that is unprovable. And because both theories rely on concepts that are, practically by definition, unprovable, neither one really has any more weight than the other. That is what you are missing, over and over.

    Dawkins attempts to explain how, in spite of–by his own admission–the great improbability of it happening, a universe came into being that can support life as we know it, by relying on a theory that is every bit as unprovable as the existence of God. He is allowing himself a luxury that he will not allow the theist. But because he happens to believe in that particular unprovable theory, that somehow makes it ok, while he implies that I have a mental disorder because I happen to believe in a different unprovable theory. That strikes me as both unfair and yes, arrogant.

    “There Is No God!”, once you state that your point of view is a self-evident fact, then you can no longer hide behind the “the burden of proof is on theists” argument.

    Show me where Dawkins says that he can definitively prove there is no God, as opposed to decimating all the reasons given to believe such. You can’t, because he explicitly says that this isn’t what he’s doing. He says this repeatedly.

    Admittedly he stops just short of unequivocally declaring that he can prove there is no God. But he does come very close to that when he writes “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other….God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact discoverable in principle if not in practice.”

    In the preface to The God Delusion, he writes, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down”. Clearly the words of someone with something to prove. We are now talking about very fine shades of meaning here. Yes, he stops just short of outright saying it, but no one can read this book in its entirety without concluding that this is his intent.

    But in a way, you’ve made my point for me. You’re right: blowing holes in certain traditional “proofs” for God’s existence is NOT the same thing as proving he doesn’t exist. Therefore, his disproving these proofs proves nothing at all, except that the proofs themselves were flawed.

    But is should be noted that his attempt to disprove the “argument from design” fails completely, because he relies on an anthropic principle of multiverses that cannot be proven as the foundation of his argument.

    Speaking of the anthropic principle, I can turn that one on its ear: if it IS true that there is an infinite number of universes, with infinite possibilities, then it logically follows that there must be universes where God exists, and universes where he doesn’t since those are the two possibilities.

    Ah, clever:

    Yes, I was rather pleased with that one myself. 8)

    but unfortunately that would only work if God was a part of and a product of the universe rather than the cause of it (and all universes). : )

    Interesting thought. It begs the question: IF (big if, I know) the concept of God is valid at all, would there only be one God of the multiverse? Or would each separate universe be free to have its own God, (or no God at all?) And if there WERE only one God for the whole multiverse, could it then in fact be deemed a multiverse at all? Hmmmmm.

    It also sort of mistakes the thrust of “infinitely many”: the infinite described is an infinite number of variations on the basic constants and then the resulting universes, not an infinitude of possibility period.

    Oh, okay. We can have an “infinite number of variations”, just so long we don’t have THAT variation. Interesting.

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating: it’s all a matter of interpretation. You and I both look at the universe. Like Dawkins, we both agree that our universe is both complex and highly improbable. And yet it’s here. We both think to ourselves, “something is clearly up with the universe”. And it is only here we part company. I look at the universe and I see the possibility (note my choice of words here) of Something Intelligent. You look at the same universe and you see the possibility of a multiverse, as Dawkins puts it. Since neither view is provable, both views are simply beliefs. Mine is no more, or less, valid than yours.

    Again, what you say gets the situation wrong. Dawkins and myself have both said explicitly that we are not _ruling out_ the possibility of “Something Intelligent.” So your presentation is simply false. The issue is what conclusions and beliefs are justified. What Dawkins does is take all the arguments given for why the God possibility is a justified conclusion and knock the wind out of them.

    Maybe you don’t, but Dawkins sure comes awfully close. I’ve already come to the conclusion that you are a far more reasonable person than Dawkins. 😉 And even if he doesn’t go all the way with this, there are many atheists who do. You introduced me to some of them. Some of them make Dawkins look like a moderate. My argument is even more valid with them than with Dawkins.

    If, after “knocking the wind” out of them, as you say, Dawkins was content to say, “therefore I just don’t believe in God, because I see no reason to do so”, then I would be perfectly fine with that. But he doesn’t let it rest there. And in his sweeping condemnation of seemingly everything that has to do with religion, he comes across as a sort of evangelical atheist, and a rather smug one to boot. It’s the same problem I have with Christian fundamentalists: it wouldn’t be so bad if they just kept their faith to themselves, but no, they’re always trying to cram it down my throat, and THEY’RE absolutely sure that THEY’RE right as well. They give me a bloody migraine. While I readily admit (as I have elsewhere) that Dawkins makes many excellent points about the state of religion today, I really see little difference between Dawkins and his ilk and the fundamentalists.

  16. September 6, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    “That you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything. What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn’t) but whether his existence is probable.” (GD, p.54).

    Now who’s quoting Dawkins out of context? I’m quite sure you know that when Dawkins states that the non-existence of God in not provable, he means it in the same way that the non-existence of Bertand Russell’s “celestial teapot” is unprovable.

    You have, however, helped me make my point. No, the inability to disprove God’s existence does NOT prove he exists. I never said it did. But the inability to disprove God’s existence does mean that the militant, dogmatic tone that some atheists adopt is unjustified. For the record, I do not include you in that category.

    True, Dawkins stops just short of outright declaring that there is no God. He very gingerly steps around this issue. He stops just short of outright stating it, but his position is very clear.

    Let me give you another Dawkins quote, this one on page 60: “Let us follow Gould and pare our religion down to some sort of non-interventionist minimum: no miracles, no personal communication between God and us in either direction, no monkeying with the laws of physics, no trespassing on the scientific grass. At most, a little deistic input to the initial conditions of the universe so that, in the fullness of time, stars, elements, chemistry and planets develop, and life evolves.”

    I almost dropped the book when I first read this. This is so close to my own view of God that I could have written it myself. For a moment I really thought that Dawkins and I could peacefully co-exist in the same universe after all. But even this view of God, which is non-dogmatic to the point of being amorphous, seems to be to much for Dawkins. He finished the paragraph by claiming that “the conclusion to [his] argument is close to being terminally fatal to the God Hypothesis.” As I have demonstrated elsewhere, they are anything but.

  17. September 6, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Thus spake Bad:

    “wordpress basic doesn’t allow editing, previews, etc. :)”

    Yeah, well, what do you want for free? 😉 Anyway, I wasn’t being sarcastic; I really meant it when I complimented you on your editing. In fact, editing your comments has helped me pick up some editing tricks. As to the rest of your comment, I’m going to chew on those awhile before I reply. I’m beginning to suspect that you and I are actually not as far apart as it may appear at first glance.

  18. September 6, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Perhaps not, but I have to add something else I realized.

    When you argue that Dawkins is bringing up multiverses, your implication is that hes pushing some sort of definitive alternative set against your theism: you then criticize him for supposedly holding to a speculation when he just poo pood yours. But this interpretation of his argument is substantially weakened by the fact that this is NOT the only alternative to theism he proposes: he proposes several different possible ideas that resolve the apparent fine tuning issue. If so, then the charge that he is trying to grant power to his one speculative idea that he has denied to yours loses its force.

    Not at all. The multiverse argument is clearly his main argument to the idea that the universe is so improbable it must have had a designer. His alternative explanation of how this universe came to exist rests squarely on the notion that in an infinite number of universes, one of them just had to be ours. Again, not a shred of proof or evidence for this hypotheses. As an argument, it is no less fanciful nor more substantial than the notion of a Higher Power. What other argument does he put forth?

    That seems as good a time as any to mention this great article from skeptic magazine which I think gives a better flavor of the sort of point Dawkins makes on this issue:
    http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/skeptic13-2_Kuhn.pdf

    I agree, it’s a fascinating article. But reading these various hypotheses is like reading Thomas Aquinas: there’s lots of cleverness, and lots of speculation, but you still walk away saying to yourself, “But what did that prove?”

    The issue is that there are philosophically many answers to the question, including the answer that the question itself is confused or meaningless (a possibility we can’t easily discount). Dawkins has at various times mentioned several of these different ideas, including the non-cognitive and brute fact possibilities.

    On this point, at least, we agree. There are many possible answers to the question.

  19. 19 st
    September 10, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Hello murderofravens,

    hope you remember me, thanks for the enlightenment abt ping-back, I am actually new to the blogosphere.

    Sure I remember you! I was also sorry to see that you took down your blog. I thought it was very well done.

    You want to know what chim/cheem is, so here goes – Chim/Cheem means deep, complicated or difficult to understand. Its Singlish, sort of a language/dialect that Singaporeans are used to speaking in. So we’re basically in awe of your writing skills and the topic you guys are debating about. Chan doesnt expect me to post something about belief systems, cos they would be too cheem for the blog which is meant for daily, random nonsense. So no offense taken:)

    cheers,
    st

    No offense taken here either. 😉 Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll become a regular visitor.

    -sps

  20. 20 The German Shepherd
    September 28, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Frankly, it takes more faith to hold an atheistic world view or even an evolutionistic belief system than it does to be a “theist.”

    Jay

    Interesting point. Thanks for stopping by.

  21. September 28, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Not at all.

    Well, er, yes: at all. 🙂 If he’s not claiming that he knows that the multi-verse possibility is “the” one, then he’s not making the argument you claim he is. And he has in other places states some of the other things off the list of possibilities I noted, including the brute fact one as well as just the pure “how the heck can we conclude anything about outside the universe when we don’t know what it even is?” style ones.

    Well, in a way you’ve contradicted your previous arguments. You can’t argue he “isn’t trying to disprove God’s existence” by demonstrating that he utilizes multiple “no god needed” explanations for the existence of the universe, now can you? 😉 Remember, we were arguing about Dawkins, not God.

    I agree, it’s a fascinating article. But reading these various hypotheses is like reading Thomas Aquinas: there’s lots of cleverness, and lots of speculation, but you still walk away saying to yourself, “But what did that prove?”

    Just what it needs to: that there is no necessity in the idea that the universe must have been designed by a designer. It’s one possibility we can imagine out of a very many, all viable.

    Now, you DO realize that this is what I’ve been saying all along, right? 😉 One possibility, one that happens to make sense to me. So if you can give me that one, minuscule concession, why can’t Dawkins?

    Remember, the case is simply whether theist arguments hold up, not whether non-believers can prove that they are wrong. The burden of proof is on those who believe that there is God, vs. those who see no reason to believe such a thing (and who make no claims to know for sure what “there is” in any ultimate sense)

    No, the burden of proof is on those who claim to KNOW, one way or the other. There is no burden of proof on anyone who simply claims to believe, and acknowledges that his belief is simply that.

    By the way, if you’re ever in Boston, the offer of that drink is still in effect 🙂

  22. October 1, 2007 at 4:07 am

    Wow! this is all better than the Oxford Union.

    Yeah, we’re all a bunch of smartypants here at MOR. 😉

    I wouldn’t dare to join in,but I have noted a few ideas from other great minds in my latest post “Belief and Unbelief” if anyone cares to look in.
    Diamonds and rust.

    thanks for stopping by. I’ll check out that out. I’ve added a link to your post, as well.

  23. 23 phillychief
    October 18, 2007 at 10:12 am

    First, the “crux of your argument” is flawed and has been ineffectively tried by every theist since the first doubt was ever raised. Why is it flawed? Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and it’s the claim that there is a god that’s extraordinary, not saying that there is no such thing. The very non existence of evidence for a god is essentially the evidence that there is no god.

    You’re missing my point, and rather badly I might add. Any claim about God is, by definition, an extraordinary claim, including the claim that there is no God at all. You don’t know any more than I know. You lack of belief is just that, a belief, nothing more. As I’ve said, ad nauseum by now, the inability to disprove God’s existence in no way proves his/her/its existence. What I am saying is that atheists have no more right to be dogmatic in their beliefs than theists. Did you actually read the post?

    Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. There are many things that exist that are not readily apparent to our five rather limited senses. Until about a hundred years ago there was no proof for the existence of ultraviolet or infrared light. But they certainly exist. Until about 70 years ago there was no evidence for the existence of the coelacanth, until they found one of the silly things swimming around off the coast of Africa. It is nothing short of arrogance to presume that because something is not readily apparent to our five senses, then it cannot possibly exist.

    Finally, proof and evidence are not the same thing. True, there is not necessarily any proof of the existence of God, but some would argue that there is evidence all around us, if one chooses to interpret it as such. All I’m saying here is: believe or disbelieve whatever you want, just lose the dogmatic tone.

    Next, the ‘if you accept there’s other life in the universe and that it could be vastly more advanced, then the notion of god isn’t much of a stretch, is it?’ idea. Answer – yes, it’s quite a stretch indeed. Comparatively, could beings seem like gods to us? Sure. Can the willingness to accept there are such beings then mean believing there’s a god, creator of the universe, all-knowing, all-powerful, who knows when you’ve been sleeping, knows when you’re awake, knows when you’ve been bad or good, and so on then be just as plausible? No. They say Evolution has gaps! My goodness, the gap from one thing to another here is so huge that to cover it you’d, well, need a leap of faith.

    Again, I must ask if you actually read my post in its entirety? I never made those claims about God. I even acknowledge the very real possibility that there is no God at all. I simply postulate that it’s no more unreasonable a position than to assume that the universe is simply the result of a series of happy yet highly improbable coincidences. I’m not a creationist. Don’t try to make me one.

    “We may never know. So why is the notion of some sort of higher power so unthinkable”
    – Because then we really will never know. Intellectual exploration stops once god is inserted as an answer. The god of the gaps is like a stubborn squatter rather than a friendly house guest. Once a real answer is found, he doesn’t leave quietly but rather has to be forcibly removed from the premises. Darwin served eviction papers and we’re still struggling. Gallileo had his troubles, too.

    I’m sorry, but this has to be one of the silliest bits of rubbish I’ve ever read here. Non sequitur after non sequitur. As I’ve already said, science, not religion, has and will continue to teach us most of what we know about the universe. But that is in no way incompatible with a belief in some sort of higher power. Read the post again, with the understanding that it was written by an agnostic deist, not a fundamentalist. Maybe it will make more sense to you then.

    Most of the rest of your argument is the usual theist position of either ‘well if it’s improbable, then it’s impossible without god’ or ‘we know so little, so who’s to say there’s no god?’. Yawn. Really? You took a few days off to reinvent these and the other wheels above?

    Granted, I may not be saying anything especially new here, but your answers aren’t exactly devastatingly original, either, now are they?

    Again, you seem to have not only not read–or not understood–my post in its entirety, you also seem to be unfamiliar with Dawkins’ writings. Dawkins himself acknowledges that the universe as we know it is a highly improbable place, and offers the “anthropic principle” as an explanation. I’m merely saying that as an explanation for the universe, God is no sillier or unfounded a proposition than Dawkins’ anthropic principle. In fact, no one has ever offered a real answer to how this extremely improbable universe came to be in the first place.

    Without realizing it, obviously, you’re helping me make my point. You’re being snitty, condescending, and frankly, a little juvenile here. You’re displaying the exact same traits as the religious fundamentalists I’m sure you despise. You’re proving my point that religious fundies and hard core atheists are nothing more than mirror images of each other.

  24. 24 phillychief
    October 25, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    So your responses to my objections is saying “you’re missing my point” and simply restating your points?

    I only do that when someone misses every one of my points as badly as you seem to have done. Which you’re doing again, I might add. And in any event, I responded to all your points, so I really don’t know what you’re talking about here.

    Oh yes, and asking repeatedly (which I see in many of your responses to others) if I’ve actually read your post.

    Well, one really has to wonder. You state that I make claims about God that I never actually made. Basically, your’e putting words in my mouth that don’t belong there. You seem determined to rebut all my attempts to prove that God exists….oh, wait a minute, I never actually claimed that I could prove that God exists, now did I? That’s where you’re missing my point.

    Now, can you prove that God doesn’t exist without invoking such nonsense as the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” or the “Invisible Pink Unicorn”? No, you can’t. So again I say to you what I have been saying to religious fundamentalists for years: accept the fact that you can’t possibly know all there is to know about our universe and lose the dogmatic, know-it-all tone. It doesn’t serve you well.

    Ok then, have a nice day.

    You too. Thanks for stopping by.

  25. November 18, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    Atheism is that lack of a belief and is not a world view. Dawkins is technically an agnositic, which you will you see if you read his TGD book. Dawkins brought up the multiverse only as one example of a possible explanation. The main idea is not to invoke magical beings to explain the yet unknown – that is just giving up on trying to understand our world.

    I have read the book. Technically an agnostic maybe, but when you write a book called “The God Delusion”, and include in it a chapter called “Why God almost certainly doesn’t exist”, then you come pretty close to claiming that you “Know”. And that’s what annoys me, not his lack of belief. He doesn’t KNOW that god doesn’t exist any more than I KNOW that he does. His atheism is still nothing more than a belief.

    As far as the multiverse goes, it’s clearly his main argument against the argument from design. And just like the god hypothesis, it is based on speculation, nothing more.

    As to your other point, attempting to deduce the existence of god from what we observe in the universe in no way implies “giving up”. As I said, science, not religion, has taught us what we know about the universe. But a belief in God is not incompatible with faith in the scientific method.

    Life was not made up, but invisible beings that live in the sky were (Thor, Jahova, Spagetti monsters). It is just that some were made up more recently.

    I agree. But one can disbelieve in the gods that man created in HIS own image, and still believe in a higher power. It’s only when one starts to attribute characteristics to this higher power that one begins to stray. The Flying Spaghetti Monster settles nothing.

    We know that life exists on Earth, and there is reason to believe that life may have evolved elsewhere. It is silly for someone to say “I believe there is life on other planets”. Beliefs are superstitous. That is quite different from saying “It is possible that life exists on another planet.”

    My point was that in this case, one is speculating about something for which there is no proof, because it seems reasonable. One can, at best, call it a “warranted belief”. And that’s my position on God: I feel it is a “warranted belief”, but I realize that it probably can’t be any more than that.

    The universe does not look designed, so why bring up a designer in the first place? There is no need. Who designed the designer? It answers nothing and is mere wishful thinking.

    I disagree. The universe clearly looks to designed to many, or we wouldn’t be having the debate in the first place. Asking “who designed the designer” is about as helpful as asking “what came before the Big Bang?” And in any event, one can attempt to deduce the existence of God from what one observes in the universe. That is not necessarily wishful thinking. It’s the various saccharine attributes given to God over the centuries that constitute wishful thinking.

    A lack of belief in “A” is not equivalent to a belief in NOT A. It is up to the proponents of A to provide the evidence. There is no need for anyone to attempt to disprove the existence of The God of Abraham any more than for anyone to disprove the non existence of anything magical. God believers do not even provide a coherent set of attributes their god(s) have, so there is nothing worth talking about, except for the fact that so many have a belief and lately it has lead to a lot of trouble.

    I think you’re losing sight of my original point here. I’m not defending organized religion, nor was my post an attempt to prove the existence of god. You’re not required to disprove the existence of God, up until the point where you call me delusional because I happen to believe in one. Once the atheist does that, it’s his turn to pony up some proof. My point here is that both sides of this argument should exercise a little intellectual modesty in their respective positions.

    Definitely any drug with the same effectiveness of prayer would never make it past the FDA and Consumer Reports would be critical of its snake oil-like qualities.

    I don’t recall ever bringing up the subject of prayer in this post.

    So why is the notion of some sort o higher power so unthinkable

    It was perhaps reasonable to think that way before the advent of modern science. Now it is not reasonable, because we know that this kind of thinking is just giving up and wishful thinking with no basis in the evidence.

    Again, I disagree for reasons I discussed above.

    The existence of evil makes a lot more sense from the naturalistic perspective and cannot be explain by a higher power of the sort the Dawkins, Hitchens and the others are talking about. They are mostly concerned with The God of Abraham (and other personal gods to a lesser extent) that interfere with the Universe and make promises that, once believed, change the believer’s behavior in unpredictable and sometime dangerous ways.

    I agree. There has been a lot of evil done in the name of religion. But for the purposes of this debate, it is straw man argument. The evil perpetrated by “religious” people in no way disproves the existence of God.

  26. November 18, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Upgrade:

    Interesting, thought provoking comments. For the sake of consistency, I have concatenated all your comments into one, however, nothing in your comments has been altered. I’ll respond to your comments shortly. Thanks for stopping by.

    -sps

  27. November 19, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    The lack of a belief in something is not an extraordinary claim. If that were the case, then the non-belief in fairies at the bottom of every garden, not believing in unicorns, Santa, the easter bunny, Hare Krishna, Zeus, a myriad of other gods, myths, legends, and the non-belief in a teacup orbiting Jupiter would require defending.

    Whenever one enters into this debate, sooner or later the atheist will trot out the chorus line which features the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, and the Celestial Teapot, as though the obvious fact that one cannot disprove the existence of any product of the imagination somehow proves the non-existence of god. The flaw in the logic lies in the assumption that one should disbelieve in the existence of God for the same reason that one disbelieves in the existence of the Celestial Teapot. If we think this through for a moment, we will see that this isn’t true.

    The reason we don’t believe in those things, apart from the fact that they are obviously the products of human imagination, is that science has taught us enough about this planet to reasonably conclude that unicorns, for example, are an evolutionary impossibility, as are six foot rabbits, miniature humanoids with diaphanous wings on their backs, and obese old men who can squeeze down every chimney in the world (in one night) without setting off burglar alarms. And while we’re at it, we can also reasonably conclude that such incarnations of “god” such as Jupiter, Jehovah, and Thor are also mere products of the human imagination.

    On the other hand, unlike our knowledge of the planet earth, our knowledge of the universe is so scant that we cannot make the same kind of confident statements about it that we make about our home planet. There is no room for the Invisible Pink Unicorn here on earth, but there is room for the notion of God in the universe.

    Furthermore, if one resists the temptation to “humanize” God, one can deduce the possible existence of a Deistic god from what one observes in the universe. Not conclusively prove, mind you, but certainly entertain a warranted belief.

    The belief in a creator requires the belief in something far more complex than what is claimed was created in the first place. That is the reason that it is improbable. Complexity appears over time, and creators come along very late in the game, because evolution is a gradual process as was the formation of stars, planets and even the elements of matter.

    I agree that the God hypothesis present difficulties of its own. I never said it didn’t.

    The belief in a complex being existing prior to the big bang is an extraordinary claim. Relativity was revolutionary and had to be tested to be shown it was true. Not believing in relativity, prior to the evidence did not demand any proof, because Newton’s theory appeared to hold up quite nicely, with a few known exceptions. There is precisely zero data supporting an intelligent designer or supernatural being, and there is in fact a great deal of evidence against.

    Again, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that there is zero data. Some would argue that the data is all around us. Where I would agree with you is that there is zero data to support the various claims about god that mankind has promulgated over the years.

    *the universe is not perfect, but it is claimed that god is perfect

    By some, but by no means all. Some religions postulate the existence of an “imperfect” god.

    *the universe does not appear designed

    Again, many would disagree with you here.

    *life does not appear to be designed (in light of Darwin and evolution)

    You seem to think that evolution disproves God. I would argue that it’s one of the clearest manifestations of his existence.

    *evil exists

    Hence Manichaeism. The Catholic church calls it heresy, but I think there’s a lot to it, at least in an allegorical sense. In any event, the existence of evil does not disprove the existence of god.

    *a transcendent being cannot exist anywhere in space, but it is claimed by theists that god exists everywhere and is simultaniously transcendent. A Transcendent Being Cannot Be Omnipresent.

    Well, now we’re just bantering semantics here. In any event, all this proves is the folly of trying to give God knowable attributes.

    *the bible is full of historical inaccuracies, is internally inconsistent, and is self-contradictory. it appears exactly as one would expect were it not divinely inspired, but was written by several primitive men with primitive morals.

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    *everything about the universe follows a course of increased complexity over time, but god would have to be complex

    As I said above, the theory had problems of its own. I’ve never denied that.

    *99.99999…% of the Universe is wasted and serves no useful purpose, and the Earth is not located in any special place. It is not especially a nice place for people and natural accidents have wiped out life several times.

    Well, it’s still better than Venus. 😉

    *an Omnipotent god is paradoxical, yet it is claimed that god has such an attribute.

    See above.

    *prayers do not work any better than horseshoes

    In my case, not nearly as well. I’m one hell of a horseshoe player.

    *miracles never work on amputees or people with MD or other currently incurable genetically-based diseases, they only “Work” on people with illnesses that are known to spontaneously heal with non-believers at the same statistical level of believers.

    You’re right, but so what? The point of my post was about Dawkins, not God. The validity of your point doesn’t make Dawkins any less annoying.

    *religious people are no more moral than non-believers. the divorce rate is the same or higher, and criminal rate is the same or higher.

    See above.

    *telepathy, esp, ghosts, etc. do not exist, or there is a lacking of any evidence. on the other hand, magicians perform magic tricks that simulate all of these phenomena.

    Again, I fail to see how any of this disproves the point of my post.

    *we never see people return from the dead or walk on water, but we know that magicians have

    See previous comment

    *a personal being needs to be physical, but God is supposed to be a person.

    The (probably) erroneous conclusions reached by others have nothing to do with my post.

    *there is no empirical evidence for any claims about a god or gods.

    One of the things that used to confuse me back in my Sunday school days was how the nuns would teach us that God was unknowable, and then proceed to tell us everything they knew about God. So hear I agree with you. Man has tried to define God in human terms by giving him/her/it human attributes. The folly of this is no doubt as evident to you as it is to me.

    Stating that “God did it” to explain every unknown does is a non-explanation.

    But I’m not doing that, as I think you can see.

  28. November 30, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    A Diest God is not theistic god. An “atheist” is a person who does not have a belief in a theistic god. However, the scientific method involves seeking naturalistic explanations the Univserse (and subsets,i.e. chemstry, physics, biology,…), based on empirical evidense.

    Part of the problem is semantics. I have always personally equated theism with deism, i.e., a belief in a higher power unadorned with religious dogma. Evidently the word “theist” means more than that to others. For my part, I consider myself an agnostic deist.

    The default position in science is to be a-“anything” for which there is no evidense. Given the lack of evidense for design and the abundance of evidense pointing in the other direction, there is no reason to believe in any designer. The point of the tea pot, etcetera is not that it disproves god, it is that the onus is one the one making the claim. The same criteria holds true for String Theory. So far, the string theorists have not shown us how their hypothesis can be falsified. Strictly speaking, String Theory is not a proper scientific theory.

    I don’t know a lot about String Theory, but it does sound rather strange to me, so I’ll just give you that one. 😉 The rest of the points you bring up in this comment have already been hashed to death, so I’m going to skip down to your most recent comment and address that.

    There are claims made by many theists of certain attributes that their god (e.g. The God of Abraham) has. These claims can often be tested. Double-blind tests for prayer is one example, and there are others. We can point out logical paradoxes

    God’s omnipotents is one example of a paradox. God either can or cannot make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it.

    The existence of evil is another.
    “It is empirical fact that unnecessary suffering exists in the world.

    2. An omniscient model God would be aware of this unnecessary suffering.

    3. An omnipotent model God would have the power to eliminate or alleviate at least some of the unnecessary suffering.

    4. An omnibenevolent model God would have the desire to eliminate or alleviate at least some of the unnecessary suffering.

    5. It follows that a God with the attributes of the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent model God does not exist.
    ” – Victor Stinger

    Diestic gods are usually not well enough defined to make any kind of investigation. However, we do see that for everything man has observed in the universe, up to this point, nature builds up complexity on a gradual level. A god capable of designing the Universe would need to be highly complex – more complex than the Universe being created. We look to probability. As improbable as it may seem that the Universe either always existed or spontaniously came from nothing, it does no help to posit a god, since this god would be even less probable than what is trying to be explained.

    Dawkins never claims that he can prove that no gods of this type exist, just that it is not prbable. I am not claiming, nor is Dawkins that we have proven the non-existense in God, just pointing out the improbability and that god is unessesary.

    Occam’s Razor is applied to eliminate additinal, unessesary variables. In this case, we eliminate God because it does not add any additinal information or function. It does not mean that god does not ultimately exist, it is just that no concept, force or attribute under invesitgation in science has been brought up that requires a god or explains anything in any model.

    Relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, chemestry, and cosmology all have perfectly good models without invoking a god or gods.

    Again, it is up to those making extaordinary claims (e.g. String theory or God) who have the burndon of proof or at least a means to falsify, not the other way around. To be an atheist (or agnostic) is to have the default position.

  29. November 30, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Afterthought (please feel free to merge this with the above comment and delete the previous). I appoligize for the duplicate.)

    I would like to take the time to explain in more detail about what I mean by complexity increasing gradually over time and how that is, in spite of the second law of thermodynamics.

    Understanding this concept is key to understanding the probability argument against a designer or an inteligent god. Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Victor Stenger talk about this from different points-of-view. Dawkins knowledge is obviously centered in biology and Darwinian evolution, Stephen Hawking explains from a much more general outlook in “A Brief History of Time”. Victor Stenger’s is good in this context, because we are discussing arguments for and against God (“God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist”).

    The basic concept is that at the point of the so-called “big bang”, the Universe was at maximum entropy (maximum disorder, and minimum information). At the point of the big bang, the universe had minumum spacial and temporal dimensions. Any space or time smaller than Planck space and time cease to have any meaning. There is zero indication of god’s “fingerprint”. The “bang” was not an ordinary explosion, but a completely causless random quantum flucuation which led to the sudden expansion of space itself. As the Universe increases in size, space itself is expanding. Space expands at a highter rate than entropy, so there is room for order and complexity to grow and still leave room for entropy to increase.

    There are now several models of universes that have been simulated in computers that show that our universe is not the only universe that could have expanded and not immediately collapsed. Our universe’s “constants” are not special in that sense. Further, there is confusion about the so call “fine tuning”. It is not the actual values of the constants that are important, but the ratios between certain key values. Secondly, the values can change more than what is often portrayed in many of the “Goldie Locks” and “Rare Earth” descriptions that are available in popular book stores in the “Science” sections. Lastly, because of the ratios, there are far fewer “special constants” that are key.

    Antother important concept about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics is that it only applies to open systems. Useful energy always tends to decrease while unuseful energy (heat) increases. Useful information tends to decrease. Since the Universe is expanding at such a high rate, there is always room for more order even as disorder increases.

    An interesting fact is that the existense of highly ordered life forms adds to disorder at a much higher rate of ordinary matter. A planet of rocks can just “sit there” for a very long time. Put some people on it and you will see a huge increase in entropy. It is almost as if nature abhores energy gradiants and it “comes up” with unlikely ways of smoothing out these gradiants by “creating” life. Please see: “Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life”, by Eric D. Schneider, and Dorion Sagan for more details on this interesting idea.

    “The role of entropy in cosmology remains a controversial subject. Although entropy does increase in the model of an expanding universe, the maximum possible entropy rises much more rapidly – thus entropy density is decreasing with time. This results in an “entropy gap” pushing the system further away from equilibrium.”

    I didn’t write that, but I think it forms a fairly succinct answer to your argument. Again, it’s fascinating, and underscores just how little we know about the universe. Proves nothing, though. A deistic God can still be postulated as the so-called “unmoved mover” of it all.

  30. December 3, 2007 at 3:13 am

    But here’s the crux of my argument: neither Dawkins nor anyone else can prove that he DOESN’T exist. Therefore in the absence of proof, the non-existence of God is not a fact, it is a belief, or, if you prefer, an opinion. Therefore atheism is merely a belief, albeit a belief in the non-existence of something. And as such, the proponents of this belief must accept the unpleasant truth that they MAY be wrong, just as adherents of traditional (and non-traditional) religious thought must also accept that their views on God and the universe may be wrong (although they rarely do, another point where I agree with Dawkins).

    No, atheism is not a belief! It is the absence of a belief. It does not require proof, because it is not making any claims. There is no proposition or premise being made.

    It is a belief insofar as it is not a statement of empirically verifiable fact. That said,
    I have no problem with the mere absence of belief in God, as I can easily understand how people might feel that way.

    But….when the atheist tells me that I am “deluded”, or that my belief in God is a “mental disorder”, at that point the atheist has crossed the line and has now made a definite statement about the universe. Telling me that I have a “mental disorder” because I believe in God is tantamount to saying that one knows for a fact that there is no God. Hiding behind the Flying Spaghetti Monster is intellectual cowardice. Evangelical atheists incur the same burden of proof as evangelical Christians. My point is, was, and ever shall be that neither can conclusively prove their case, so both should refrain from shoving their beliefs down people’s throats.

    I hasten to add that I’m not saying that that’s what YOU’RE doing here. But again, my post was not about God pe se. It was about the dogmatic tone that many atheists take when debating this subject.

    “Athests do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 [Strong Atheist – ‘I know there is not God] is in practise rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1 (Strong Theist), which has many devoted inhabitants” – R. Dawkins, Page 51

    Yes, yes, I read that too. But Dawkins comes awfully close (by his own admission) to category 7.

    You seem to think that evolution disproves God.

    No, I am absolutely not saying that! Darwin shows us with natural selection that other explanations, other than intelligent design, for how processes that otherwise look designed may not be. In the case of biology, natural selection is an explanation for the diversity of species. We can see how the process does not require outside interference. In the case of biology, natural selection very eloquently explains how species gradually became more complex over time. Prior to Darwin, it would have been natural to assume design in the case of animals and plant. After Darwin, we see a better, simpler, natural explanation. Evolution does come close to disproving the creation story in the Book of Genesis.

    Genesis? Who said anything about Genesis? I would hope that you would realize by now that I don’t put much stock in Genesis.

    As far as evolution and natural selection goes, I’ve already stated that I buy into those ideas quite wholeheartedly. But here’s a thought for you. I’m sure you’re aware that humans and chimpanzees share about 98% of the same DNA. That right there proves, to me at any rate, that the theory of evolution is probably the right one.

    But it also brings up a puzzling thought: a few strands of DNA is all that’s kept me from a lifetime of sitting in a tree, scratching my balls, and wondering where my next banana is coming from. As it turns out, we share almost that much DNA with mice. So my point here is simply that evolution only explains why we are not chimpanzees, but doesn’t really explain why we are human.

    As far as the multiverse goes, it’s clearly his main argument against the argument from design. And just like the god hypothesis, it is based on speculation, nothing more.

    How so? I see two pages out of Chapter four (Why There Almost Certainly no God” speaks of it – out of 40 pages. Given that Dawkins is not a physicist it should not be surprising is that his main probability argument is based on his argument against intelligent design. He points to Darwin to show that it does not take ‘a big smart thing to make a lesser thing.’ (Dennett).

    I said it’s his main argument against the argument from design, not necessarily his main argument against the existence of God. This is one of the weakest points in the whole book. For some reason, Dawkins seems to be so desperate NOT to believe in God that any theory, no matter similarly unprovable, is preferable to the God hypothesis. He even acknowledges it, but can give no better reason as to why his theory is better than to say his “consciousness has been raised” by Darwin. In essence, he is allowing himself a luxury he denies the Deist.

  31. July 1, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for the link. This is an excellent post which will certainly have me delving back into the conflicting crap (sorry can not bring the right words to the front today) in my head.

    My childhood, up through my early twenties was filled with religious indoctrination. I was taught to pray, and to follow the spirit. To which I believed I was doing quite well. A blind faith, so to speak.

    Then I was face with glaring ‘situations’ that made my faith take a complete nose dive. The final straw would be when a friend and his family were in a car accident. They were hit by another driver and crashed into the retaining wall. Everyone was able to get out of the SUV but his 8 year old daughter. She was trapped and pleading with her dad to get her out. This little girl was burned alive and her father could do nothing to help her.

    Although my friend did nothing wrong and was a great person, he is now left with the nightmares of his daughter screams. I cannot bring my head around to understand how and why a loving god would allow such cruelty. What do we gain by her being taken in such a manner?

    I am not completely convinced there is no god. But, if he exists, I will surely be going straight to hell for saying, “He is one sick bastard.”

    I will not be upset if you delete this… I just had to get it off my chest. To be completely honest, my own blasphemous thoughts depress me. A belief in God gives me hope… yet, I refuse to fully let myself believe again. Maybe one day…

    Well, first of all, I would never delete one of your comments. You always put a great deal of thought and insight into them. Your comments are always welcome here.

    Again, the point of this post was not to try to convince anyone of any particular point of view. What I was taking issue with was dogmatic atheists like Richard Dawkins who seem to think they KNOW God doesn’t exist. The truth of the matter is, nobody really knows.

    Like yourself, I was brought up in a strict religious (in my case Catholic) household. I even went to a Catholic college. Ironically, four years there did more to beat the Catholicism out of me than anything Dawkins could have said. I questioned all my beliefs, and as a result discarded most of them.

    I am, at best, a Deist. I believe in God, but that’s about it. Whether or not he answer prayers, or gets involved in any way in our lives, is something I can only speculate about. There have been many times when it did indeed seem as though my prayers were being answered, but then I look at the world and see what a mess it is, and have to wonder: if there is a God, why is he taking such good care of me, and letting the rest of the world wallow in so much unhappiness?

    So I can certainly understand when someone has questions such as yours. I have them myself. The only answer I can offer is that we should probably worry a little less about the hereafter, and think more about what we can do to make our little corner of the world a better place.

    As always, thank you for stopping by and leaving a thoughtful, articulate comment.

    -sps

  32. July 15, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Thanks Steve you are the best!

    Awwww, shucks ma’am! I’m just a simply country boy. 😳

    This is just what I needed to read this morning. Whenever I am wallowing I always seem to be lifted up when I offer little acts of kindness to those around me.

    That sounds like a pretty good philosophy to me.

    Today is going to be fantastic. I can feel it in the air.

    You go get ’em, Tiger! 😉


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