Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Proving Atheism and Bayes’ Theorem

There’s a significant difference between the actual probability that some event will or has occurred and an individual’s subjective assessment its probability. People frequently assign high probabilities, for example, to events that are exceedingly unlikely. As a person ages, for instance, she will estimate the likelihood that she will be the victim of crime as steadily higher even though the real odds of being a victim of crime are inversely correlated with age. The demographic that is at the highest risk, young men, estimates their risk as the lower than other groups. Bayesian’s have given us a way to treat these subjective estimates. They are a person’s prior probabilities, because they are the person’s estimates of probabilities prior to any real objective testing.

The incredible thing about Bayes’ theorem is that it allows us to account for the two different starting points in probabilistic terms and it has the facility for us to engage in an analysis that can resolve the issue. Two people can start with very different prior probabilities, but as long as they are committed to revising those estimates in the light of all the relevant information, they will converge on the correct answer. If we make enough observations or figure in enough of the right consideration that are relevant to the prior estimate of probability an answer about the real probability of x will become clear.

“You can’t prove it!” is the sneering response that I get from many believers who hear or read my arguments. The root of the criticism, I take it, is that they will reject my conclusions until I can produce some sort of exhaustive, deductive proof that provides perfect certainty. Perhaps then and only then would the critic be willing to take the argument seriously. But somehow I doubt it. For the dedicated believer, there is nothing, even in principle that could actually serve as counter evidence. No proof, no matter how compelling would be accepted. Perhaps sensing this, they feel confident in saying, “You can’t prove it.” because that is more of an avowal of their dedication to their view, than a broad epistemological analysis of the nature of proof in this realm.

We’ve known since Quine’s famous arguments concerning a priori knowledge, and other developments in the 20th century, however, that there’s really nothing that can be proven in the sense that is being asked for. What counts as a successful proof always depends upon other principles, and which principles are the most reasonable to adopt overall is a complicated, global affair. Ultimately, the theoretical descriptions we give to the world, including our standards of deductive and inductive proof are justified by their capacity to address our epistemological needs. And proving one claim always relies upon other claims that can, with some ingenuity, be called into question. Very little seems to be beyond some form of doubt, so for the determined skeptic, some sort of worries can always be engineered. Of course, that skeptic has much worse problems to deal with than the mere fact that we cannot prove God’s existence or non-existence to his satisfaction. His worries cut equally across all putative knowledge claims, whether they are trivial or momentous. So the atheist need not respond to the skeptic as if the skeptic’s challenges are the atheist’s alone to bear.

The pragmatist and naturalist who appreciates the state of play post-Quine should adopt some interesting and broad epistemological principles. The scientific method wherein we propose hypotheses and then actively seek out disconfirming evidence to test them is the best game in town for pressing forward with the knowledge project. It works. And we just don’t have anything that’s any better. We can’t trust the magical books from antiquity, we can’t trust superstition, or religious intuitions, and we can’t trust tradition or authoritative institutions to be reliable guides to the truth. The only thing we can do is adopt hypotheses that have been submitted to the tribunal of aggressive scientific testing as provisionally justified and true, and keep plugging away. That approach has, by far, been the most successful, and fruitful in the past. Indeed, only that approach has succeeded. And the success has been amazing.

In the big picture, then, all justifications are in a word inductive. The best we can ever do is acquire probabilistic conclusions about the world. How should we understand the various arguments that I have made here in those terms? If one is serious about attending to the evidence at all, then as we saw with Bayes’ Theorem, whatever prior probabilities you have concerning some issue, you should continuously fold new information into those considerations and revise those prior probabilities to achieve the most inclusive and well-justified synthesis you can. We can understand why a child believe in Santa for a time, and the prospect of flying reindeer might not seem that outrageous to them considering the wide range of magical things that inhabit the rest of their world. But at some point when enough information is available to them various parts of the story shouldn’t add up anymore. It should get increasingly difficult to reconcile the Santa view with the rest of what a child learns about the world. The probability that the Santa story is true should diminish to the point of being unreasonable.

Something similar has happened over time with Christianity’s magical claims from the Iron Age and their lack of fit with the modern world. Of course there are still those that believe. But as scientific literacy spreads and as the scientific enterprise penetrates deeper into the mysteries of the world, the cognitive dissonance grows. It becomes necessary for belief to retreat into a more and more apologetically complicated labyrinth. Alvin Plantinga has argued that no findings in evolutionary biology can be at all logically incompatible with theism. But one wonders what sort of theism is left from the one’s that started the movements that have such a stranglehold on the consciousness of their followers today. Could the first believers of Christianity have possibly imagined that quarks exist, or that the life had been evolving for billions of years on Earth? If they were being candid and honest, would they have insisted that none of what we have discovered in science casts any doubt on their God stories? If science’s story about the history of life is true, and we have every reason to think that it is, then what work exactly is there left for God to do? What need do we still have for the notion of God?

So what I am arguing here and in many of the previous posts is that when we take all of the various relevant considerations into account—the chain of custody (see Resurrection? Probably Not), religious zealots controlling the story for centuries (See The Fox Guarding the Henhouse), the Mark Bottleneck, the 500 Dead Gods, The Perfect Word of God, Abducted by Aliens, the 300 Year Gap, Grave robbers or Magic?, You Don’t Really Expect Us To Believe That, Do You?, and so on—it is not reasonable to believe that Jesus was resurrected on the basis of the information that we have. In Bayesian terms, whatever sort of prior probabilities you may have attached to events like resurrections, miraculously written books, and visits to Earth by divine beings, the arguments that I have given should give you reasons to revise those probabilities unless those arguments are unconvincing for some good reason, or you simply refuse to align your beliefs with the evidence. Of course, I could be wrong too. And if I’m going to be reasonable and consistent about this Bayesian approach, then I would need to revise my prior estimates in the light of compelling new evidence. If I am wrong, then I need you to show me exactly where in the arguments that happens and why. I want to know if I’ve got it wrong.

If I’m not, then even if your prior probabilities had led you to think that God’s existence was a virtual certainty, at some point after folding in enough of the relevant information and revising accordingly, you’ll reach the tipping point and what you used to believe will cease to be plausible in the light of current considerations. And that’s as good a proof of anything that anybody ever gets.

47 comments:

Chris said...

I've always wondered at what point does a religious belief become so ingrained that no amount of logical argumentation and presented facts could possibly sway the person.

The Anton-Babinski syndrome, which we've been talking about, seems to be a perfect example of this. Now, obviously, severe neurological disorders aren't exactly strictly analogous to a belief state but it does seem to raise the question: To what degree can a belief be unassailable despite counter-evidence?

It seems to me, in some cases, there are beliefs or ideas people have that they will not change, regardless of said belief being soundly refuted. This, of course, tends to be common with people such as creationists. I always wonder if there's a neurological thing going on which makes them completely incapable of accepting the evidence that refutes their belief.

Of course, there is a more simple answer of sheer intellectual dishonesty (or plain stupidity) which may explain quite a bit but by no means does it seem to explain it all.

Matt McCormick said...

I guess I'm more optimistic than you C. Sure, there are those who are just impenetrable to reason. But they are the extreme cases. In the right circumstances lots of people are willing to listen to reason and in time they revise their beliefs. Blogs have kind of disappeared into the noisy background, though.
MM

ChrisAC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChrisAC said...

Oh, I completely agree that my selection is on the fringes. I think the real problem is a number of the 'leaders' of religious/creationist movements tend to either have this problem or be severely intellectually dishonest. Also, the kind of person that goes to say, an atheist blogs, and spout nonsense and fallacies, probably has a similar problem.

While the average believer may be far more reasonable, you still run into the problem that they don't actively seek out rational arguments that may question their religion. Hell, most don't even seek rational arguments that support their religion. Though, I suppose that's all the more reason to be vocal as an atheist.

On the upside, I saw a link to your blog on Pharyngula's comments section. Movin' on up.

Carbon Based said...

I think alot of it has to do with compartmentalization between rational ideas and irrational ones.

Why else can a person function in an increasing complex technical world yet hold primative ideas regarding a deity?

Anonymous said...

I am convinced doctor that if you are wrong about God that your head will explode before you can receive any divine disciplinary action.

Logic 101 said...

Proving the negative is a falllacy...

The argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam ("appeal to ignorance" [1]), argument by lack of imagination, or negative evidence, is a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false, or is false only because it has not been proven true.

The argument from personal incredulity, also known as argument from personal belief or argument from personal conviction, refers to an assertion that because one personally finds a premise unlikely or unbelievable, the premise can be assumed to be false, or alternatively that another preferred but unproven premise is true instead.

Both arguments commonly share this structure: a person regards the lack of evidence for one view as constituting proof that another view is true. The types of fallacies discussed in this article should not be confused with the reductio ad absurdum method of argument, in which a valid logical contradiction of the form "A and not A" is used to disprove a premise.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_proof

Anonymous said...

Preemptive response...

Atheist believe you can prove the negative by listing the following scenerio:

You can prove that pennies are not in the piggy bank


However, this scenerio is different from a case where:

You can prove that God does not exist by showing there are no Gods in the world

Notice that the penny case presumes implicitly that pennies in fact exist (they are counted for via an ontology)

But in the case of God(s) there is a lack of countence in God(s)

Thus trying to prove God does not exists truly rest on the ignorence of God(s).

Therefore, Atheist are confused about what constitutes as case of "proving the negative"

If anybody here has ever worked out a reductio through natural deduction they would know that there are neat little things called "imbedded premises". These neat little guys must be true in order for the rest of the reductio to pan out. In the case of atheism, which attempts to claim a negative, there still lies an implicit assumption. That is, there is such a thing as God(s) to be proven arent in the penny jar.

Simply said, atheist cannot claim to have proved a negative when they must first assert a postive (this must occur as their imbedded premise). And such premises cannot be negative...

In summation,

Pennies existed even before we tried to disprove their location (note not their existence)

God(s) have no ontology so cannot serve as a premise and cannot be shown to be either in the penny jar or not in the penny jar.

At best, atheist can claim agnosticism

But if they disregard a neutral position then they as theist must rely on faith.

Now we know why proving the negative is a fallacy

ChrisAC said...

Lovely, a few kids took an intro philosophy course and believe they can lecture a PhD, with a Wikipedia citation no less. The wonders of the internet.

There are multiple ways to solve your absurdly inconsequential objections to atheism.

Firstly, a lack of evidences does in fact imply a lack of existence. It is not deductive proof, of course, but it creates a reasonable and justified belief in a person, given enough searching (or properties of the object being searched for). Just as a person is reasonable and justified for not believing in Santa, Dragons or Invisible Pink Unicorns one can reasonably be justified in the lack of a belief in God by the fact that there has yet to be any case in which evidence of God has brought to light. Much like not finding the Lochness monster or Bigfoot after years of searching and a plethora of attempts, as well as use of knowledge of the ecosystem to determine required food supply we can reasonably rule out the existence of these creatures, despite not having deductively certain proof. Given that we have completely demolished religious claims for the last two thousand years, pushing the God-of-the-gaps into even smaller holes.

Additionally, the argument from ignorance is used, primarily for asserting positive claims, not negative. It tends to be a "You can't disprove it, so it must be true" not a "There is absolutely no evidence for it, thus it is unreasonable to believe" which, I agree, could be used poorly in most cases. Unfortunately for theists, the lack of evidence for a God, much like the lack of evidence for dragons, is so compelling that a belief in them would render someone utterly irrational.

In fact, most atheists I've met argue less for the non-existence of God, and more for the irrationality of believing such a being(See: How can you believe that shit Vs. There's no way one of those things could exist)

Agnosticism is a fairly laughable position itself, as it's an almost indefensible position. You must argue and find it reasonable to hold the belief that the existence of Thor, or the beliefs of the church of Scientology's are likely enough to hold a state in which you neither prefer or disregard them. Very few individuals hold such a regard for any belief, as there is almost always evidence (or lack of evidence for extraordinary claims, like say, a thousand mile tall pillar coming out of Russia)

Of course, we can point this out absurd argument by merely invoking Russel's teapot. By your argument, it is just as reasonable to belief in a celestial teapot (or Thor, or Allah, or Zeus) than to not believe it, based on your inept argument.

Furthermore, the 'proof' of which you ask is utterly impossible, which makes any belief you have to be as such completely unjustified, as you cannot prove there is not a Cartesian demon manipulating your senses. With the statements you're making, in a poor attempt to defend having 'faith' (With is nothing more than a synonym of willful ignorance)Ironically, your using the exact same fallacy you're attempting to attack atheism with. You're claiming that the inability to utterly disprove a position something makes it reasonable to accept. Textbook case of argument from ignorance.


Furthermore, you don't need to invoke a God to use deductive atheology at all. Merely the ability to argue two properties are logically incompatible and they can not coexist together. An object that exactly four sides cannot also only have exactly fix sides at the same time. Any claim of the truth of that statement would be utterly insane, and can easily be disproven.

And hey, we don't even need to *look* for foursided-Fivesided objects to disprove them! Fancy that.

But that's ok, keep on being agnostic about them, while I have 'faith' they don't exist.

One last thought: Your penny example doesn't imply pennies exist, it implies that it is logically possible for them to exist. I can search my room for a dragon without holding the belief that dragons do actually exist, as long as we have pre-defined what properties a dragon has. So, I guess, your argument boils down to me not being able to say there are no dragons in my bedroom. Curious.

Reginald Selkirk said...

But in the case of God(s) there is a lack of countence in God(s)

Could you please define "countence," or give me a synonym? I can't find it in my dictionary, and it seems to be crucial for that sentence. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

re: chris

You're assumption that I took a class is unfounded and borderline ad hominem

Also, you really dont seem to be grasping I said - you cannot use lack of evidence for a proof - that is exactly what is needed to prove a negative. And disproving that pennies are not in the jar is not a case of proving the negative since it relies on proving a positive. Logicians agree on this. Thus is why its a fallacy to prove a negative.

Anonymous said...

Ye I misspelled it reginald

tr.v. coun·te·nanced, coun·te·nanc·ing, coun·te·nanc·es
To give sanction or support to; tolerate or approve: The college administration will not countenance cheating

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/countenance

M. Tully said...

You learn something new everyday.

Another great post Matt. I think most people, if they actually took the time to think about it, would agree that they take a Bayesian approach to nearly everything in their lives. In everything from which route they take to work in the morning to how they invest their retirement income, they will modify their actions based on new evidence (although frequently ignoring probabilities and giving in to the recency effect).

So, why do believers treat the existence of a deity differently? I can think of at least three reasons and all in no particular order:

The “No Cost Model.” I have an irrational belief but it doesn’t cause enough harm to force me to confront it. If we look at the “which route to take to work” example there is an implied reward / punishment for choosing incorrectly. If I make the wrong choice, I either must awaken earlier in the morning or risk being late work. But what if an individual is what I call a “casual believer.” They profess a belief, they even pray but they don’t count on this belief to give them any insight into how the world works nor do they have any expectations of positive miraculous outcomes. If this person is confronted with contrary evidence they can easily dismiss its consequence to their belief system even while they fully accept the validity of that evidence. In effect, they can ignore the implications of counter evidence because it has no negative consequences. As CB points out it is compartmentalization. And because it is a kind of compartmentalization that causes no (or little) harm, I could see it being difficult to penetrate.

The “Love is Blind Model.” Here a believer is so emotionally invested in an idea, that not only do they not accept contradictory evidence, they must actively rationalize away its existence. Similar to a person being frequently confronted with evidence of a spouse’s infidelity; lipstick becomes grease pencil, an unfamiliar earring becomes a forgotten lost possession, a message on the answering machine was obviously meant for a different Samson Schmucketelly in Monrovia, OH. This is a person that can not only ignore new empirical data, they can radically reinterpret its meaning. And even though it may be having negative consequences for them, they won’t allow themselves to even face the evidence rationally. This too is a form of compartmentalization I think (I can’t see a way they could consistently apply this form epistemology and survive), but definitely a much tougher person to convince than the NCM.

The “Haven’t Given it Much Thought Model.” Here the believer has neither ignored nor reinterpreted contrary evidence but rather has never connected that the evidence reveals inconsistencies with their beliefs. For instance take someone who believes that in a series of coin tosses if heads comes up three times in a row then that means that tails is three times more likely to come up on the next toss. She may come across a data sheet of a million consecutive coin tosses; in that data there are numerous instances of heads coming up three times in row and sure enough the probability of heads coming up on the next toss is 50%. She has seen the data but never relates it back to her belief about probabilities so that if ask her, she still holds on to the 3 times as likely model. This isn’t compartmentalized thought. I think in this case merely reviewing the data and pointing out its significance may be all it takes to show that the Bayesian model should be accepted in ontology as much as it is everything else she does.

I doubt that the above is comprehensive, but I think it may form a framework for communicating the argument Matt makes in the post to different people.

M. Tully said...

Speaking of learning something new everyday. In Matt's post he references "Quine’s famous arguments concerning a priori knowledge."

Now it's been a couple of decades since I studied the Philosophy of Science (for a grade anyway), but I thought I had heard all of the "famous arguments" from Aristotle through Kuhn. Imagine my surprise when I look up this Quine guy at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Apparently a hole in my otherwise impeccable Liberal Arts education (ehmm).

Can any of you philosophically inclined types recommend the one book to read get a good understanding of his ideas?

M. Tully said...

Oh, and by the way, I agree with Anonymous (c'mon who would have thought that they would hear that) that proving the negative is a logical fallacy.

As a strict empiricist I hold, "You do not prove the negative, it's the default position!"

Eric Sotnak said...

M. Tully wrote:

"Can any of you philosophically inclined types recommend the one book to read get a good understanding of his ideas?"

Quintessence: Basic Readings from the Philosophy of W. V. Quine

M. Tully said...

Thanks Eric.

Reginald Selkirk said...

But in the case of God(s) there is a lack of countence in God(s)

Thus trying to prove God does not exists truly rest on the ignorence of God(s).
...
countenance


Substituting the word, I do not understand the argument. Are you saying we cannot disprove God because "God" has not been defined?

M. Tully said...

"you cannot use lack of evidence for a proof"

Sleep light Anon, there is an invisible supernatural boogyman living under your bed waiting to eat your heart.

So let's dispense with the, "you can't prove it" thing. Or are you planning to stay up all night looking under your bed with a flashlight (because boogymen are afraid of the light).

Its back to Matt's main point about Bayesian analysis. All the evidence you have seen to date indicates there are no boogymen. No matter what you may have believed in your early youth, today, based on the evidence, you are an aboogymanist.

It works, you're not forced to live with the fears of entities that evidence has not given sufficient reason to believe in.

So why not apply that same method of reasoning to the rest of your beliefs?

Anonymous said...

Tully,

Why would I ever have a belief or disbelief in a boogeyman that I cannot account for? Do you really understand what you're saying???

You nor anybody else cannot have a justifiable position on invisible imps nor cloaked boogeyman.

Thus, atheist just like theist, do not have a proof based position on God. ergo atheist are irrational to claim that God does not exist least they invoke the fallacy argumentum ad ignorantium.

Anonymous said...

"Its back to Matt's main point about Bayesian analysis. All the evidence you have seen to date indicates there are no boogymen. No matter what you may have believed in your early youth, today, based on the evidence, you are an aboogymanist."

What kind of test are there for boogymen? Invisible imps? These entities seem to be beyond testable methods...

If so then what can this Bayesian reasoning be based on in claiming that God cannot exist? The almighty opinion of some professor who collectively used data to fit his worldview? Atheist cannot get out of the "proving the negative" fallacy, which they are guilty of from thinking that dragons don’t exists so gods (magical beings) don't exists as well. Somehow, someway, they need to commit an error in reasoning - their data set is going to have to include a case of proving one negative to support another, which is completely fallacious. You cannot have a justifiable belief that magical beings don’t exist because there is no way to confirm or deny such. And without some kind of confirmation one cannot have a proof based belief, which seems more problematic for the atheist than the theist.

Matt's argument is essentially that because superstitious and religious claims haven't been proven that they are somehow unbelievable (disproven). Certainly, Matt can claim that superstitious claims aren't a part of the scientific community but this claim does not inherently entail a true vale for whether such things exists but rather they do not play a role.

Anonymous said...

Reginald,

"Substituting the word, I do not understand the argument. Are you saying we cannot disprove God because "God" has not been defined?

Yes, Sort of. Proving or disproving God is on par with invisible imps, stealth aliens etc. Such entities cannot be consdered within the framework of proof or disproof. We may be able to accept a working definition of an invisible imp but stil cannot check for them i.e. they require supernatural testing...

This is a little like D & D role playing

Reginald Selkirk said...

I see, so it's a matter of testability.

Reginald Selkirk said...

What kind of test are there for boogymen? Invisible imps? These entities seem to be beyond testable methods...

That depends on the claims made for them. Even most allegedly supernatural entities interact with the natural world, and thus the interactions should be testable.

Consider one alleged supernatural phenomenon which has been tested repeatedly: that intercessory prayer speeds healing or improves medical outcome for hospital patients. Even though the adressee(s) of the prayers are allegedly supernatural, the medical outcomes can, and have been, tested in controlled clinical trials with double-blind evaluation. The results of the larger, better-run studies is negative, except for a couple well-known cases of fraud. Fraud is not supernatural, and its existence is not in any way surprising.

So, the only way to get around testability for your boogeyman, or your god, is to claim that it does not interact in any way with the natural world. I.e. that it is impotent and useless.

Matt McCormick said...

It would be a mistake to ratchet up the standards of proof for anyone who holds a view you disagree with and then claim to have refuted them because they cannot "prove" it. At the outset, I take it that many of us have reasonable, justified beliefs that fairies don't exist, there are no unicorns, and that Santa is not real. If we have reasonable, justified beliefs that those aren't real, then I think that it has probably been proven to your satisfaction that they are not real. Some people will disagree with me on this premise. But try to understand the broader, more ordinary sense of "proof" I am employing here. So if it has been proven to your satisfaction that Santa is not real, then it should be possible to expand the criteria of disproof that apply in those other cases to the God case. That is, we have a lot of good, reasonable grounds for concluding that Santa isn't real. In a broader sense, we have a lot of reasonable grounds for being suspicious about any supernatural claim. Not only has intercessory prayer been thoroughly investigated, but countless attempts to corroborate or find evidence for other paranormal, supernatural, spiritual entities have failed to produce anything compelling. At some point, we are justified in adopting a very strong skepticism about any new such claims that come up. The U.S. and British patent offices adopted a policy of refusing to consider any new patent applications for perpetual motion machines decades ago. I think this is reasonable, even though it remains logically possible that someone could build one. At this point, we have a lot of good evidence to justify adopting the view that religious claims about some invisible super being who lives in another dimension and who reads minds and grants wishes are most likely false. In fact, I think it would be irrational to be agnostic about such claims at this point. You'd be silly to argue for agnosticism about fairies too.

But if the critic still insists on elevating the standard of proof for the atheist to absolute, deductive certainty--"The atheist isn't justified unless he possesses an a priori proof for the logical necessity of God's nonexistence," then I would direct the critic to a large literature in the philosophy journals, including some of my published articles, that allege to do exactly that.

The application of this standard of proof is illegitimate, of course. If we adopt the standard that no belief is reasonable, or proven, or justified until it is supported by a logically necessary proof, then we must reject the vast majority of what we believe as unreasonable. Given that option, I reject the standard of proof as unreasonable. Descartes, famously, crashes and burns here for making the first choice.

The irony is that no reasonable theist today would claim that they possess a proof for God's existence that demonstrates his logical necessity. The very best philosophical theologians in the world acknowledge that this project has failed. So the critic either adopts a standard of proof that cuts equally across all believes, including their own theism, in order to undercut the atheist, or the critic must acknowledge that in a reasonable sense of "proof" the atheist has done his job.

MM

M. Tully said...

Anon,

To confuse a philosophical argument from a true student of philosophy could be easily understood. To confuse a philosophical argument made by me? Well, that’s not going to give you to much credence anywhere.

You wrote, “that God does not exist least they invoke the fallacy argumentum ad ignorantium”. The argument from ignorance is summed up by, “You can’t explain this, therefore my explanation is correct” (i.e. you don’t know what came before the big bang, ergo god). My point was simply that I (along with the rest of the rational world) in our day-to-day lives require evidence to believe in the existence of any entity. I didn’t say because you can’t prove your entity existed, that implies some other entity must exist.

My argument would actually be classified as a Reductio ad absurdum. If you take your reasoning to its logical conclusions, you reach ridiculous results. Which you apparently do because you state, “You nor anybody else cannot have a justifiable position on invisible imps nor cloaked boogeyman.”

So your position is that it is quite justified for a person to change their behavior based on the possibility that invisible imps or cloaked boogeyman may exist.

Ad absurdum indeed. I’ll let a candid world judge for itself.

Anonymous said...

Reginald,

Yes, unteastable things would appear irrelevant to the scientific realm but I am not sure if thats the same as the natural world. Perhaps. But if there is a supernatural world that is undetectable then isn't that potentially natural if we were to discover it? I think a perosn can believe that what we chose to call supernatural may in fact be actually part of the natural world. Damn the term "natural"...

Anonymous said...

Tully,

I have no idea what you're trying to say. Your post is convoluted and full of philosophical jargon that I do not think you fully understand.

Anonymous said...

Matt,

"But try to understand the broader, more ordinary sense of "proof" I am employing here. So if it has been proven to your satisfaction that Santa is not real, then it should be possible to expand the criteria of disproof that apply in those other cases to the God case."

I see where you are going but I always had a hunch that a broad sense of justification truly relies on some kind of appeal to a general consensus, perhaps a case of ad populum? I realize that many if not all people do not believe in a tooth fairy but is this belief really justified or is it taken for granted based on a common belief via societal convention? Shouldn't our belief values be labeled "I"(indeterminate) until there is some evidence to be weighed either way?

Also, expanding a disproof of Santa Claus to God is just not feasible. Those two entities aren't analogous at all. One is supernatural in the utmost sense while the other is quiet natural or shall we say tangible. We have a much clearer description of Santa clause's capacities. I can sit up all night and wait and watch for Santa Claus to fail to bring my presents - a case of observable evidence.


"But if the critic still insists on elevating the standard of proof for the atheist to absolute, deductive certainty--"The atheist isn't justified unless he possesses an a priori proof for the logical necessity of God's nonexistence," then I would direct the critic to a large literature in the philosophy journals, including some of my published articles, that allege to do exactly that."

I am not sure I need to go here to invalidate atheist having justification for God not existing (my agnosticism argument for atheist) .Also, I do not think atheist can show a deductive disproof of God either. Such an attempt hasn't been poplar among philosophers in history. Personally, I don’t think Modern philosophers are worth much and seem to be stuck regurgitating what their professors believe. They do seem to make good teachers though.

"The irony is that no reasonable theist today would claim that they possess a proof for God's existence that demonstrates his logical necessity."

Is this really true? Doesn’t a theist define God's necessity through their faith in him? There must be some propositions in your belief set that is true by definition? Perhaps that you can have beliefs? Yes, I know this sounds like Descartes but you got to start somewhere and with some proposition that is necessary.

I think this discussion has digressed. To interject another interesting challenge to atheist I'd like to present the problem of negating the existence of entities. Not that any evidence we have against false entities isn't evidence but that it cannot have the correct relation with that which is not....

Consider "Santa Claus dos not exist"

This statement is problematic since it attempts to negate an entity that allegedly does not exist. But to do so requires to define the very entity that is being negated into existent. Thus you cannot negate the existence of an entity. For atheist they must negate God. I believe this dilemma may be tied to the reason why atheist aren't justified in their disbelief of God.

Reginald Selkirk said...

This statement is problematic since it attempts to negate an entity that allegedly does not exist. But to do so requires to define the very entity that is being negated into existent. Thus you cannot negate the existence of an entity.

You appear to be confusing the existence of an idea about something with existence of the actual something.

Anonymous said...

Reg,

"You appear to be confusing the existence of an idea about something with existence of the actual something."

How can this even come into play if we havent first negated the entity? It is only then that we can say it is merely an idea.

Also, I do know the difference between a referent and its object. Do you?

Anonymous said...

I will try to refrase my challenge to atheist.

How can you folks establish a non-entity when any evidence you use will do the opposite? It will affirm the actual existence...

M. Tully said...

"How can you folks establish a non-entity when any evidence you use will do the opposite? It will affirm the actual existence..."

So let me get this straight, if I state that, "Gravity defying lead bricks do not exist." I am actually making an argument for said bricks existence?

Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

Tully,

This may be way over your head. You need to think about what's going on when we assert the existence of non-entities i.e. God does not exist". There is both an affirmation of the subject at qeustion (its meaning) and the alignment of evidence used to relate to it. I didnt just make this up. Its been a philosophical problem in metaphysics as far back as Plato, even with eastern sages. SEE Plato dialouges "SOPHISTS".

M. Tully said...

"I didnt just make this up. Its been a philosophical problem in metaphysics as far back as Plato, even with eastern sages."

So, Plato could justify the gravity defying lead bricks?

No Anon, I think it is you that may be in over your head. You see yours (and Plato's for that matter) line of reasoning is categorized as ethnocentric.

If I apply it universally, I must also accept the existence of Marduk, Ra, Baal, Zeus, Athena, Thor, Vishnu, and the great God of the volcano.

My goodness. With all that worshiping and sacrificing how will I ever earn a living?

Just because you happened to born in a certain geography and during a certain era doesn't give your claims any special position. To assume it does would certainly be a case of time-space bigotry.

There is a reason that you can't find any Platonists or even neo-Platonists around any more. They were believers in hypotheses that were tested against the evidence, and found wanting (how do you like that, a biblical reference).

It's a canard Anon. It looks appealing at first, but when you put to the test of evidence it fails, miserably.

Of course, you could always start to erect temples to the hundreds of gods that people have claimed to have existed over written history. Can you put Athena's close to my house? The Goddess of Wisdom with soft-spot in her heart for men of the sea. Oh yeah, if I must act under Plato's (c. 400 BCE) understanding of the universe, I'm picking Athena.

Reginald Selkirk said...

This may be way over your head. You need to think about what's going on when we assert the existence of non-entities...

Play nice, or we'll tell your mommy that you've been using the computer.

Anonymous said...

Tully,

You're embarrassing yourself here. Its not just Plato who proposed the dilemma of proving the existence of nonentities - its been a philosophical problem for thousands of years. Quine worked extensive on trying to get rid of the problem of meaning talk about such things as "unicorns" etc. Clearly, you have no idea what I am talking about and I hope you are not a Phil student. You continue to reply with a partisan nature that is antithetical of a Phil student.

Also, you don't seem to understand logic that well. if I cannot disprove an entity then how must I believe in it? That is what you are suggesting with your list of Gods. Every heard of many valued logic? Its a type of logic that gives way to agnostic views, which are deemed with an "I' truth value.

Brush up on your critical thinking skills kid and drop the act...

Anonymous said...

reginald,

Perhaps you can explain to Mr. tully what I am getting at? He doesnt seem to be considering Plato's beard...

M. Tully said...

Anon,

Look, when you wrote, "You're embarrassing yourself here. Its not just Plato who proposed the dilemma of proving the existence of nonentities"

Here's the challenge:

I can imagine a gravity defying lead brick.

You demonstrate its existence and I'll take you seriously. Until then, go read "The Secret." Its epistemology is every bit as valid as yours. That is to say, not at all.

Anon, its about possibilities and probabilities. If you accept something simply because its not linguistically impossible, you must accept all things that are not linguistically impossible. Otherwise you are either being logically inconsistent or intellectually dishonest.

Which are you Anon?

Please continue.

M. Tully said...

Anon, you really are a Poe!

"I hope you are not a Phil student. You continue to reply with a partisan nature that is antithetical of a Phil student."

You were the one who stated:

"This may be way over your head"

And "Your post is convoluted and full of philosophical jargon that I do not think you fully understand"

And "Tully, You're embarrassing yourself here"

Hypocrisy much?

Hey, if your goal is to put your reasoning before a rational audience and see what comes of it, please continue. I really do mean please.

Anonymous said...

tully,

"I can imagine a gravity defying lead brick.

You demonstrate its existence and I'll take you seriously. Until then, go read "The Secret." Its epistemology is every bit as valid as yours. That is to say, not at all."

This is proof Plato's beard is over your head. All you ahd to do is ask a philosophy professor. When you refer to batman you make an ontolgical commitment to that entity, negating or affirming. "There is no batman" seems to have no subject matter but only a referent if you think he does not exists. But you cannot refer to nothing and still claim to have meaningful conversation...


"Anon, its about possibilities and probabilities. If you accept something simply because its not linguistically impossible, you must accept all things that are not linguistically impossible. Otherwise you are either being logically inconsistent or intellectually dishonest."

This paragraph really doesnt make sense. but if you're talking about what you have previously argued i.e. that If I cannot negate entities that I must believe in them then you are misinformed. A person can be undecided about an entities existence. Surely, your belief set doesnt have all T's and F's!

Anonymous said...

Tully and Poe,

I am just trying to help you save face. i presume you are a phil student at the school of matt the professor? Your peers may or may not be watching but the things you say are highly pretenious to say the least. If you do not understand something then dont respond. Don't assume I am some ignorant theist. I may or may not have studied philosophy but to assume either is unfounded.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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