Friday, January 15, 2010

Are We Proving the Negative Yet?

Let’s consider a line dividing the natural and supernatural worlds. We can leave some of the details of what this line is, exactly, open for now.  The natural world is where we live.  That’s where our brains are, science is here, Lady GaGa, down quarks, and bacteria live here.  And all of our tools for empirically  investigating reality reside here.  Science operates here with particle accelerators, telescopes, biology labs, and so on.  So provisionally the line between worlds is the line between those things that we can investigate with scientific methods—spatial-temporal entities, forces, and phenomena, broadly considered. 




What’s on the other side?  Well, there have been many proposals.  Ghosts, if they were real, would be there.  The souls of dead people who psychics talk to would be there.  Our prayers are alleged to cross the line.  Angels, demons, saints, and all the other things that have been alleged to be real, but not part of the natural world.  And of course, God, by most descriptions, if he was real would be there.




Our challenge, then, is to use the tools we have—our empirical and not so empirical methods—to do our best to figure out what’s real over there.   We know that people have always eagerly proposed many inhabitants for that world.  Over the millennia the number of supernatural hypotheses that have been put forward is staggering.  But lots of them, it turns out, are bogus.  Demons aren’t real.  Ghosts aren’t real.  Paluga, Odin, Oprah’s favorite mystical force The Secret, aren’t real.




Everyone, including enthusiastic supporters of Odin and ghosts, has to acknowledge that there must be some criteria of reasonableness that we can employ to sift the real from the imaginary when we consider various proposals for supernatural beings.  We’ve at least got to try to use the resources at our disposal to figure out which of those we should believe in and which we should be doubtful of.  The alternative would be to simply accept all of them, I suppose.  But no one actually does that, nor do they think that’s reasonable.  And we can’t accept all of them as real because many of them are mutually exclusive:  if the Muslim Allah is real, then the existence of Catholic saints in the afterlife presents a problem; if Paluga created the universe, then a number of other views about the origins of the world must be ruled out. 


So what tools do we have?  We can gather as much empirical information as we can and try to construct the best, most comprehensive, most logically and probabilistically consistent model of reality on the basis of it.  We infer the existence of unobservable (but natural) entities on the basis of observables all the time.  The data from bubble chambers in a particle accelerator are explained by the presence or muons, or a readout on a mass spectrometer leads us to postulate the presence of a chemical compound in a sample.  It may be that the best explanation of some particular set of empirical observations is that there is a supernatural being on the other side—that’s what “irreducible complexity” and intelligent design arguments allege to show.


Alternately, we can employ more conceptual methods.  We can just ask ourselves if the supernatural proposal even makes internal, logical sense.  Are the various claims about this supernatural entity consistent with each other?  If they are not, then at the very least, that should raise a red flag about the plausibility or viability of the proposal.  (I dealt with the possibility of acquiring private knowledge of God through your own thoughts here:  Vetting Supernatural Knowledge Claims)


When we have a proposal for an inhabitant of the supernatural realm, then, first we need to get clear on exactly what sort of thing it is alleged to be and what sorts of properties it has.  Then we need to see, to the best of our abilities, whether what that thing is alleged to be fits with two things.  First, does it fit with  our empirical observations of the world and the scientific model of reality that we have developed to explain them.   If it doesn’t, then either there is something wrong with the model, or there is something wrong with the supernatural hypothesis.  Which one we should prefer in this case will depend on the strength of the evidence we have for the empirical model of the world against the strength of the evidence we have for the supernatural entity  A concrete example:  consider the fundamentalist Christian God who, among other things, is alleged to have created the entire universe, the Earth, and all life in its current state of development in just seven days approximately 6,000-10,000 years ago.  This is a supernatural being that might be real, and whose existence would have some observable implication in the natural world where we live.  So in principle, this is a supernatural being that we can investigate empirically. 


It would be a gross understatement to say that our investigations have not favored this proposal.  The hypotheses that 1) our universe began approximately 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang, 2) that life on Earth began in its most primordial forms about 3 billion years ago, and 3) that humans evolved gradually from these lower life forms billions of years later, have become some of the most thoroughly confirmed and justified conclusions in the entire scientific enterprise.  To put it very mildly,  if we were to accept GodFC (fundamentalist Christian), there are too many other well justified beliefs that we would have to reject.  And to make things worse, the evidence in favor of the existence of GodFC is remarkably sketchy.  There is very little to recommend it, besides prejudice, ignorance, and delusional ideology.  Scratch one more supernatural being off of the list.




And while we are at it, let’s scratch demons, ghosts, sprites, elves, Santa, chi, etc. off the list too.  Those are  all supernatural hypotheses that can’t be reconciled with the rest of what we know (and have better evidence for).  And fundamentalist Jews and Muslims also subscribe to young Earth, creationist views, so there’s two more down:





What about other supernatural hypotheses.  We can proceed according to plan.  And we can use both approaches.  For centuries, philosophers have been considering the viability of abstract characterizations of God as a singular, personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being.  Call this GodB5, for the big 5 properties listed.  Does a being  a being like this make sense? 


Deductive atheologists argue that it does not (see Drange, Martin, Mackie, McCormick, Grim, Everitt, and others).  First, there have been many attempts to work out the details of what it  would be for God to have these various properties and in a number of ways it has been argued that one property is incompatible with another.  See Drange for a quick overview.  These incompatible property arguments suggest, but do not deductively demonstrate, that no such being with these particular properties can exist.  Why do they only suggest it? It remains too be seen whether there can be  no reasonable account of what it would be for God to be omnipotent, for example, and also omniscient that is logically  and conceptually consistent whatsoever.  Maybe there  could be a characterization of these properties that is both reasonable (no special pleading or ad hoc revisions are allowed) that we just haven’t come up with yet. 


Maybe.  But at what point do we shift over from “probably,” to “we’re not sure,” to “probably not,” or it is “beyond a reasonable doubt?”  To date, among the greatest philosophical minds that have worked on the problem over the course of 2,000 years, we do not have a satisfactory account of omnipotence.  (Nor are there any arguments for the existence of God that have achieved any widespread consensus support.)  The paradox of the stone, which you may heard of, is just the start of it.  In recent decades, philosophers, including many theists, have employed the latest greatest and most sophisticated advances in logic, conceptual analysis, set theory, and even math to try to spell out what omnipotence could be to no avail.  We haven’t been able to define it in a way that has sufficient scope to be appropriate for a divine being on the one hand without running afoul of logical paradoxes, and being puny but relatively free of abstract conceptual problems on the other.  So the prospects for omnipotence are dim, and they don’t seem to be brightening.  And omnipotence doesn’t appear to be a viable property, then the prospects for their being a God who is essentially omnipotent are poor.   


I won’t summarize the full set of discussions in the literature here.  But a large set of arguments within the deductive atheology tradition (and in the philosophical theism tradition too!), presents us with serious conflicts either in the account of a single property like omnipotence, or between two or more properties.  And those conflicts are the strongest indicators that we could have that God, as traditionally conceived, is not even a possible being, much less an actual one.  And if we can’t make rational sense of the classical account, then it undermines a number of other proposals:  If there’s no GodB5, then there’s no Christian, Muslim, or Jewish God. 




The problems pile up.  Many people have also concluded (and it would be difficult to insist that they are being unreasonable) that the quantity and quality of suffering in the natural world make the GodB5 hypothesis implausible.  There is a very large literature in the background here, but I’m going to stick to the big picture.  The problem of evil gives us grounds to put yet another scratch through the GodB5.  Put a scratch through it for every compelling argument we have—empirical or conceptual—against the existence of GodB5.  With so many stakes in his heart, it will be hard to resurrect this one from this side of the divide. 


And so on.  For every supernatural hypothesis that has fallen to good sense, evidence, empirical investigation, and careful thought, we can propose it and then cross it out. 




See my post on 500 dead gods for several hundred more that I couldn’t squeeze onto the slide.  See 2,500 more at CommonSenseAtheism.com


So . . . . 


Are we proving the negative yet? 


That is, what about wide positive atheism?  That depends on what sort of standard of proof we are adopting.  If we artificially elevate the bar so that it is only reasonable to believe those negative existential claims (“X does not exist”) where we have deductive certainty, then the answer is no.  "You can't prove a negative," we hear again and again.  But atheism is being held to a false standard of proof.   That’s a standard that no one meets for any of their beliefs.  Descartes took it seriously in the Enlightenment, but notice that he didn't get far after that.  Then, after a number of developments in math and logic in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Euclidean and Aristotelian notions of certainty that used to give us so much security are anachronistic.  (See Godel, Cantor, Russell, Reimann, Lakatos, Carnap, Putnam, and Wittgenstein, to name a few.) 


Even mathematicians now acknowledge that if we adopt a different set of axioms at the outset, we will be able to  “prove,” different conclusions.  Furthermore, the arguments in favor of one set of axioms over another themselves do not provide us with perfect deductive certainty.  If the wide positive atheist isn’t justified because he lacks this sort of proof, then the problem isn’t just his—that means that we all have to face the consequences of a devastating global skepticism.  Put another way, the epistemological challenge of skepticism is not uniquely the atheist’s to solve.  In rejecting atheism on these grounds, the skeptic has robbed himself and everyone else of everything.  If there are no rationally justified beliefs, then it’s true that wide, positive atheism is not a rationally justified belief.  But consider the cost.  As many see it, the absolute certainty demand is not an indicator that we don’t have any knowledge, it’s a reason to reevaluate the epistemic principles that produced the demand.  (See G.E. Moore.)  I will take the existence of many rationally justified beliefs that are justified in the absence of perfect deductive certainty as the reductio argument against skepticism and leave it at that for now.  The critic of atheism cannot artificially raise the standard of proof against atheism to levels that no beliefs can fulfill, and then pronounce only atheism dead. He's got much more serious problems.


Can we draw some conclusions or make some projections from the long list of dead gods that are moldering on the other side of the line?  Do they prove the negative?  They prove the negative as well as it can ever be proven.  


For decades, the patent offices in the U.S. and Britain were deluged with submissions for patents on perpetual motion machines—contraptions that would produce more energy than was put into them, and thus solve all of humanity’s energy needs forever.  Such a device is highly dubious, if not impossible, given what we know about the laws of nature.  After wasting countless frustrating hours reviewing these proposals only to reject them, the patent offices adopted a new policy.  They ruled that no more patents applications for pepetual motion machines would be accepted. 




We should draw the same lesson about God.  The failure of so many attempts to 1) devise  a conceptually coherent account of what God is, and 2) reconcile the existence of God with the rest of what our best scientific model of reality describes, give us reasonable grounds for rejecting the existence of such a being.  This conclusion is defeasible—we should be prepared, like any reasonable people—to revise this conclusion in the light of new evidence.  But 100% of our best, earnest, energetic attempts to find some reasonable grounds for believing have failed.   And all of those failures narrow the possibilities for what that being could be.  Any new proposals must navigate around all those corpses, as it were.  And they must fit with our rapidly expanding empirical knowledge of reality.  The prospects for doing that look more dim than reviving demon possession as an explanation of infections, or of finding new evidence that overturns all of the evidence for evolution. 


We are justifiably skeptical about the prospects of yet another proposal for a perpetual motion machine coming though the door.  The next applicant comes into the patent office and says, “I know that the existence of a perpetual motion machine flies in the face of all the physics and chemistry that we know.  And I know that there have been thousands, or even millions of others, just like me, who insist that they are the first and only ones who ever got it right.  But seriously, you’ve got to believe me.  I am the one who has finally figured it out.  My proposal for a perpetual motion machine really works.”  You’ve got a lot of explaining to do to justify our taking you seriously.     

34 comments:

dguller said...

Out-frikkin-standing.

Anthony said...

This is just simply amazing. From now on, when somebody chides me to "prove God doesn't exist!", I'll just point them to this post, because there is no way I can ever so cogent.

Thanks for this!

mikespeir said...

There is no reasoning so ironclad that it can't be ignored.

Tristan D. Vick said...

Wondurbar! Fantabulous! I appreciate you posting this clear and concise explanation on being skeptical and the reasons proving a negative is insufficient apologetics tactic for "evidence" of God.

Well done.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks folks for all the positive feedback.

In the interest of stimulating more critical discussion, here's what I see as potentially the most problematic part of the reasoning. What I'm saying could be misconstrued as "lots of god beliefs in the past have been mistaken, so a new one that we encounter must be too." That can't be right because the history of science is built upon cases where we eliminate hundreds or thousands of false hypotheses in order to excavate the real one. What I want to emphasize is that our inquiries into the god question have indicated that a whole category of causal explanation is highly suspect. I'd be more willing to entertain a god hypothesis if we could point to a single instance of a supernatural, spiritual, spooky, or magical entity, force, or phenomena that had turned out to be real.

So what if someone comes back against this argument and says that we should reject scientific hypotheses because so many of them have been wrong in the past? What should be the answer?

MM

Anonymous said...

In response to the question, I'm reminded of something I heard in a Sam Harris talk (I know he's not as academic as we'd like here): "We can name plenty of religious hypotheses about the nature of the world that science disproved over time. Can we name the opposite?" So the argument that we should reject scientific hypotheses because science has been wrong in the past seems invalid. Science is continually improving. It's hard to say the same thing about religion.

Larry Tanner said...

Since you want critical feedback, I'll give a try. But really I agree with most everything you say.

My conversations with religious people on matters such as the existence of god, divinity, etc., often include the faithful explaining to me about the experiential merit of their beliefs. They know that God is real, or that Jesus listens to them, because they have had a powerful and personal experience that they see as confirming the truth of their belief.

So, I don't see a believer being particularly impressed that collecting empirical data fails to "find" their god. Indeed, this failure often gets taken by believers as support that their belief is true.

And when you hypothesize about "a supernatural being that might be real, and whose existence would have some observable implication in the natural world where we live," I don't see that a believer would grant a conclusion that we can follow this being empirically - a believer might simply say that the world itself testifies to the existence of its creator (e.g., watchmaker and design arguments).

So, I would say to strengthen your proposal, you need to pay more attention to the many varieties of experience that people claim to have with the supernatural. I mean focusing on the experiences themselves and the forms they take. For example, many Christians and ex-Christians claim to have gotten so worked up as to speak in tongues. But this type of experience is not unique to the Christian believer. Visions are another element that cut across religions and religious experiences.

If I am making any sense at all, I guess I am wondering if a good way to "prove the negative" is to develop the case that these unique, powerful, personal, mystical, and miraculous experiences with the divine are quite common and part of so many religious traditions.

The challenge then becomes connecting commonality to the idea that the experiences are unreliable or not factually what the individual thinks them to be.

I remember being particularly impressed when I learned that the life stories of figures such as Moses and Jesus followed patterns of many other hero myths. If someone has broken down the patterns of religious experience narratives, I think this would also be impressive.

One other point: you begin with asking us to "consider a line dividing the natural and supernatural worlds." I find that when discussing religious claims or atheistic claims, this line gets shifted around during the discussion. In general feel-good parlance our world and god's world are intertwined or even the same thing. This is the "God is everywhere" line. Of course we all know that when we want to gain clarity on defining the divine/supernatural, we will soon hear that "God is inaccessible and inscrutable." If this is a contradiction or paradox, then believers have a high tolerance for it when it comes to things they want to believe. But it would be nice to know how to get this line affixed for the purposes of productive dialogue.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Larry. That's all helpful. I've dealt with a number of these issues at length in other posts. In fact, go back a couple to

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/vetting-supernatural-knowledge.html

and it deals with the private knowledge position pretty thoroughly, I think. Hard to cover all the territory in a single post. But when this all ends up in the book, I'll fill in all the gaps.

Thanks.

MM

mikespeir said...

As to the experiences thing, one thing that strikes me as odd is that the purported sense that supposedly picks up on things supernatural has no common name. Why not? All of our other senses have common names. They do because we use them on a day-to-day basis; we need them just to get along. How is it that the one sense upon which our eternal destinies are supposed to rest isn't even enough in evidence to have a common name?

What would make this sense sure enough so that God could justifiably consign us to eternal unpleasantness for getting it wrong--or even ignoring it altogether? I've used all my other senses for 54 years. I'm probably about as expert in their use as the average 54-year-old. And yet, sometimes they let me down. (Like the other day when I thought I was smelling chocolate cake but it was only candle wax.) Why would a sense--even given that it exists--of a realm where we don't have a lot of experience be so infallibly accurate that we could rightly be condemned for misinterpreting or ignoring it?

Hugo said...

Good job!!

kriss the sexy atheist said...

"Hello, this is Opossum, I just wanted to say that you are awesome."

Kriss

BJ said...

"So what if someone comes back against this argument and says that we should reject scientific hypotheses because so many of them have been wrong in the past? What should be the answer?"

The reason we rejected scientific hypotheses in the past was because attempts to verify and validate the hypotheses by means of scientific method failed; we don't reject other hypotheses just because we rejected lots of others. We followed a process that itself has been tried and true.

The corollary - equally wrong - would be to say that I reject your god because I have to date rejected all other gods. Rather, I reject your god because the process I used to reject all other gods led me to conclude that your god was false as well.

Now, we could further the discussion along meaningfully if we then talk about whether the process I used is one that can reliable obtain true beliefs.

paulv said...

With regards to perpetual motion machines, we have discovered that at very low temperatures, friction and/or resistance can disappear. And now the race is on to produce materials that exhibit this effect at not quite so cold temperatures.

Should this work be abandonned, because so many previous stupid attempts at perpetual motion machines were failures? Should we abandon chemistry, because so much of alchemy was a complete fraud? I think the lesson here is that the attempt to build a complete and self consistant rational worldview has been demonstrated to be a pipe dream. Once you accept that your faith in rationality is a faith, then other irrational faiths may appear less threatening.

Hugo said...

@paulv

Review your knowledge of physics, a true perpetual motion machines is, and will ever be, impossible.

"we have discovered that at very low temperatures, friction and/or resistance can disappear"
is a lie;
What you could have said is that at temperature close to absolute zero (you know what that is right?) friction and/or resistance can 'almost' disappear.

Plus, faith is never a good thing, IMO, and being rational has nothing to do with having faith in anything. People can have faith in some ridiculous things and still be rational concerning anything else, and vice versa, some people are extremely rational in some areas but will believe many many things based only on pure faith.

paulv said...

"Faith is never a good thing" in your opinion. Is this something that has been proved, or just something you believe. And if so, is your belief in it a good thing.

My examination of historical instances, has shown that faith can have good, bad or no real consequences, depending on the occasion. I believe, that like aggression, the capacity for faith exists because it has been very useful in certain situations. Why else would it exist?

While I perfer BJ's response, mine could have been clearer if I mentionned Godel's theorem, which proved that a rational system cannot be both complete and self consistant. Ie. there is truth that rational systems cannot demonstrate, or any system cannot be justified from within itself.

Wikepedia certainly states that resistance drops to zero when superconductivity is achieved. But whether it is truly zero, or just exponentially small is moot. If we can generate a current that can last longer than we expect the universe to last, then it qualifies as perpetual motion for me.

Granted people are allowed to believe that perpetual motion is not possible, and may even have valid reasons for believing it, just as many believed that Maxwell's equations made the Bohr Atom impossible, but most now just believe that Maxwell's equations don't apply to quantum states of the atom in the same way as to macroscopic phenomena. Certainly the kind that violates the conservation of energy, we believe is not possilbe, because we have a greater belief in conservation of energy (except for the very short violations required for quantum mechanics to work correctly).

Hugo said...

"Faith is never a good thing" in your opinion. Is this something that has been proved, or just something you believe. And if so, is your belief in it a good thing.

My examination of historical instances, has shown that faith can have good, bad or no real consequences, depending on the occasion.


I was not talking about the consequences of having faith in something, as it's obvious that it can lead someone to do both good or bad things. The point is that it's never right, never correct, as it's never proven, by definition. Therefore, it could be true, or could be false, but when you have faith you don't care, and that's what I find "not good". This attitude of believing things to be true without evidence, faith, even if it leads to good thing, is never, itself, a good thing.

paulv said...

I don't think having faith is necessarily the same as not caring, rather it can be a realization that some answers are not currently, and may never be known. When faced with these kinds of questions belief is on average a better choice than inaction.
Its why we tell young athletes and actors to believe they can succeed.
They may never know otherwise, if they have what it takes.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for your ideas, PaulV. I've written about faith a lot on this blog and I have presented a number of really substantial problems with resorting to that to vindicate God belief. Here's one of the recent ones. Also do a search on the blog for faith.
http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/open-floodgates.html

MM

Hugo said...

@paulv

I hope I have misunsertood you beacuse from what you just wrote, it appears that, for you, it's better to give an answer, any answer whatsovere, no matter how ridiculous that answer can be, than replying "I don't know".

Please correct me; or seriously think about what you consider good justifications for believing something.

Concerning your athlete example; you're out of the scope of the issue here. That's not the same 'faith' at all. What we are discussing here are beliefs, not wishes for the future. Words can have more than one meaning or be used in one than more context you know ;) (I know you know, just kidding...)

paulv said...

Hugo, all I said was that on average, believing can be better than inaction, for questions that cannot be answered directly.

Belief, even when wrong, is more likely to inspire action than the absence of belief.

Given a population of people, some will believe they can make it as actors, the rest don't. Now some who believe they can, can't and waste their life trying, but also some who don't believe, don't try and miss out on a real possibility.

For the society as a whole, it is better to have some visionaries who believe in their vision (even when it appears unreasonable in the current paradigm) then to have only people who reject all visions that don't seem reasonable. Yes will waste time on stupid visions, but the alternative is I think worse.

Hugo said...

@paulv

You went back to the idea of belief in the future, like positive thinking, having inspiration, optimism, etc... this has NOTHING to do with believing something to be true or not.

- Do you believe the Earth is round? Yes. Do you believe this because you have faith? No. You have good reasons, evidence, to support to belief. That belief is justified, rational, and common.

- Do you believe that a person who weight 150kg can lose wait if that person puts the effort into it? Yes. Do you believe this because you have faith? No. That's not faith, that's optimism, clearly not "faith" in the same sense as having faith that a supernatural god exists.

- Do you know what caused the Big Bang? No. Do I? No. Do I make a guess? No. Do you? I think yes you do. You think there must be a god behind all this. Do you have proof? No. You have faith. You accept this idea that a god exists on faith, for whatever reasons suits you, perhaps it makes you feel good, perhaps others around you believe it too, perhaps you had personal experiences, perhaps you believe that historical accounts of miracles are sufficient to believe.

You really don't understand the various meanings the word faith can take or what???

paulv said...

Respectfully, I disagree. There is a difference between wishing for something, and believing something is true. I wish I would win the lottery, but I don't believe I ever will.

You question whether I know the various meanings of the word faith. I can only state that I use it as in Wikepedia "Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true"

As such religious faith is not testably different from other beliefs.

We can never prove anything by induction, at some point we may decide to believe it to be true, or act as if it is true. We may call this a reasonable leap, because we judge it to be the most or a more likely hypothesis, but it remains a leap of faith. No leap of logic can be so small that there is no risk of undoing the finest proof.

The topic is how we deal with claims of perpetual motion, or rather by that analogy that people should reject arguments for gods like the patent office at one time treated applications related to perpetual motion machines.

But I can't help wondering if the determination, enthusiasm, faith that these losers had for their inventions, can really be distinguished from the determination, enthusiasm, and faith that Kepler and Copernicus and others had before finally being able to prove their ideas. Arthur Koestler ("Sleepwalkers") amoung others doesn't distinguish any differences. There are many documented cases where scientists persisted in their belief about a new theory, in spite of much evidence to the contrary. Ultimately some were proven right, but many times not. So it is perhaps better that we are capable of great faith, in spite of the obvious cost in certain situations. Do scientists make guesses about what happenned at the big bang. I think the consensus is that they do, and then they try to see if these guesses result in any testable predictions. Rather than ignoring things that run counter to current theory, they look for things current cannot explain. Patent offices don't deal with scientists though. But our capacity for great faith, and delusion exists so if there is no god who gave it to us, then it is likely (in my opinion) that it has been benefiicial in the past, and likely will be again

Triage is a rational choice when faced with a flood of patents, or of patients. Using a quick criteria to eliminate the number to a workable size is a valid solution to a manpower shortage or otherwise limited resources. I don't think it is a valid solution when thinking about fundamental problems, unless we are being deluged with claims of new gods say at this time.

Certainly when fighting against a bad thing that some people fervently believe, it is tempting to want to fault their faith in it, or try to eliminate faith in general. But to discredit all faith on that count, is no more logical than assuming that the bad actions of one jew is a compelling reason to eliminate all jews. If faith is bad, then every instance of faith should be bad, and any one instance of good faith should be enough to put the theory of bad faith to bed. That doesn't mean we should praise people for believing things that are demonstrably false, but I cannot fault them for believing that new and strange things are yet to be discovered that will surprise even the patent office, after all we've been surprised in the past. Nor can I fault them for concluding that we are now all out of important surprises.

Hugo said...

@paulv
There is a difference between wishing for something, and believing something is true.

Well, that's basically what I was trying to tell you. It's plain weird that you now write this as if you were the one trying to convince me... Can I quote myself?

"You went back to the idea of belief in the future, like positive thinking, having inspiration, optimism, etc... this has NOTHING to do with believing something to be true or not."

You then went on and mentioned that We can never prove anything by induction so I feel like you are trying to get into a profound philosophical discussion here; since basically we use induction to prove most of what we believe, and that's perfectly fine. Of course it's not absolute truth as we can derive from math; but very few things are.
Anyway, I have no interest in discussing that over here in a comment section of a blog... visit http://www.wearesmrt.com/bb/ for that!

Anonymous said...

Paulv said:

"Triage is a rational choice when faced with a flood of patents, or of patients. Using a quick criteria to eliminate the number to a workable size is a valid solution to a manpower shortage or otherwise limited resources. I don't think it is a valid solution when thinking about fundamental problems, unless we are being deluged with claims of new gods say at this time"


This is a very good analogy and as I take it hints at what may be taking place with the appeal of atheist trying to convince us that proving the negative in relation to God is ok. However, the question of God seems to be a philosophical issue and not one of practice like a triage or court room.

So, to the atheist on here, shall we treat the existence of God with the same level we do with convenient and quick judgments in hospital rooms or court rooms ? Or do we require the question of God to be dealt with a higher standard, one that is academic and philosophical?

CS

Hugo said...

@CS

"...shall we treat the existence of God with the same level we do with convenient and quick judgments in hospital rooms or court rooms ? Or do we require the question of God to be dealt with a higher standard, one that is academic and philosophical?
"

Personally I judge most of the gods much more quickly than triage at an hospital... and that's what YOU do too!

Does the general idea of a supernatural deity require a higher standard? Yes, of course, did you even read the blog post you are commenting on...? I think Matt did a fairly good job at explaining why Atheists reject the supernatural, and his explanations could hardly be any shorter!

Anonymous said...

Hugo,

I cannot fathom how you would know how much time I spend making judgments. Are you that little man in my head?

Everything else you said seems pretty partisan

CS

Hugo said...

@CS

lol, good point, I don't know what's in your head.
Let me clarify with a few questions...
Do you believe in Zeus?
Do you believe in Apolo?
Do you believe in the FSM?
...
How long did it take you to judge the probability of these gods to exist in reality?
Probably as long as myself...

I don't understand what you mean by partisan with regard to my comment... basically my answer was 'yes'.
(in reply to do we require the question of God to be dealt with a higher standard)

paulv said...

Presumably there are an infinite number of wrong theories for every scientific phenomena. So the odds of the current theory being correct are rather small. I think it is correct to conclude that each theory we now hold is not the true theory.

But because it isn't a the "true" theory, does not mean it cannot be considered a better theory than the previous ones. and any new (and possiblly true) theories will likely incorporate some aspects of the old ones, as well as transcend them in unpredictable ways.

In the case of god, can we assume that the new (and possibly true) ideas of god won't inccorporate some of the past notions, as well as transcend them in some ways.

We can quite easily reject Rutherford's theory of the atom, as well as Bohrs etc, without rejecting the idea that a truer theory exists. We can believe that no true theory exists, but Bohr's incomplete theory has no bearing on the odds of whether a true theory exits

paulv said...

To accept the argument that 500 dead gods makes no god more likely, is to argue that an analysis of guesses about what is inside a sealed container, can tell us the likelihood that the container is empty.

No number of abandoned guesses, can ever influence the actual container.

Of, after how many different atheistic world views have been abandoned, can we say with confidence that god exists.

Hugo said...

@paulv

Concerning theories; I think we agree that we keep revising our understanding of the world, so it is correct to say that the current theories will be overridden at some point in the future. However, you seem to make it sounds as if the new theories completely anahilate previous ones; which is rarely the case.

Let's look at two examples. First your atomic model theory. I remember from when I was a kid, we were presented with these models where electrons where placed on fixed orbits around an atom, just like miniature solar systems. That's more or less Bohr's theory if I am not mistaken. Now, I am not expert at all, but from interesting articles or documentaries I have seen, quantum mechanics now tells us that electrons act in strange ways, and can be described using complex probabilistic equations. But it turns out that these equations, confirmed by observations, show that the electrons still tend to align on the orbits proposed by Bohr.

Second example, take gravity. Newton told us how massive objects interact with each other, and since then we have been able to compute precise trajectories using his equations. Heck we even went to the moon using this knowledge! But Newton was "wrong". Knowledge of relativity showed us that gravity is more complex than just a force pulling us toward the Earth.

In both cases however, the new theory did not overturned the previous ones completely, and it could never be so, because the facts remain the same. What we realize is that our facts and theories were correct, but approximate only.

So, what about God theories now? Well it's not the same at all! Because God theories don't tell us anything about God. What they do tell us is that, based on some "facts", the conclusion is that God did it. There are no theories that look at God and then explain how God does something, because we do not observe God at all, we "observe" its consequences.

With God, it's the complete opposite of science. It's basically as if Newton had said : "I know that there is this force called Gravity, and I shall prove to you why it is the case". No, that's not how scientific theories work. Newton looked at the facts, i.e. objects fall..., celestial objects move around each others... and then proposed an explanation as to why the objects are falling/moving. He gave that explanation a name, a label, and called it Gravity. (perhaps it was not him at all who labelled gravity, I am just giving general ideas on how I view all this...)

So, in short, there are no God theories, because God is a concept that humans invented to explain other things. Therefore no matter what you were trying to justify here is bogus. Your God is a conclusion, a theory itself, not an observable fact.

Hugo said...

@paulv
To accept the argument that 500 dead gods makes no god more likely, is to argue that an analysis of guesses about what is inside a sealed container, can tell us the likelihood that the container is empty.

Well if you want to make an analogy with a sealed container you should put it this way to be honest:

- You belive you know what's inside the sealed container that no one has ever opened

- I tell you I don't know what's in it

- You say it must be 'X', and claim that saying it's 'X' is better than saying I don't know

- I tell you no, because 'X' could not fit in the sealed container, just like all other 'Xs' that were proposed before, for different reasons.

- You say that it's not impossible for another 'X' that we know nothing about, yet, to exist in the sealed jar.

- I reply: OK, if you say so... I simply do not see any reason to believe you.

Hugo said...

@paulv
after how many different atheistic world views have been abandoned, can we say with confidence that god exists

I wish someone would be able to tell me what an atheistic world view is, because I simply do not get what that means when theists say that. There is nothing that my non-belief in a god influences, so it cannot be a world view. It is in fact a conclusion of my world view, which is... hum, I have no idea! Naturalist maybe? Humanist? Rationalist? I don't know honestly...

Ron Cram said...

Proving a negative is not impossible, but it is very difficult. And no, you haven't gotten there yet.

Still, I like you. I especially like the fact you are working so hard on a project many others have pursued and failed and yet you are undaunted. It shows you have real determination. And you are obviously an intelligent man. You have not been lazy at the books. All of that is very commendable.

I come to the subject from a different point of view. I'm a Christian... perhaps a different type of Christian than you have come across before. While I believe the Bible is literally true (with figures of speech, of course), I do not believe in a young universe or a young earth. Many of my Christian friends hold to a view called theistic evolution or BioLogos. I have some problems with certain aspects of the science of theistic evolution but applaud the efforts being made.

I have made a few substantial comments on the post "Know your godless heathens" pointing out the errors in some of the "incompatible properties arguments" put forward by Drange. You might want to look at those.

I have not yet had a chance to read your book but am guessing you interact with Lee Strobel's evidence some since your title includes the words "the case against Christ." Have you, by chance, interacted with any of the pro-theist arguments put forward by CS Lewis, Anthony Flew, Alister McGrath, Hugh Ross, Francis Collins or Allan Sandage? If so, I would love to read them if you can point me in the right direction.

Best wishes to you.

Matt McCormick said...

Ron, I don't know if you're following remarks here but: Thanks for all your thoughts about many of my posts. In general, your approach to the question sounds more like "How can I defend theism/Christianity and answer objections?" than "What is the most reasonable view, overall, to take about the God question?" But usually people don't respond positively or take it constructively when that is suggested. Perhaps you'll consider the points in these two posts:

http://www.provingthenegative.com/2011/08/defense-lawyers-for-jesus.html

And

http://www.provingthenegative.com/2011/02/defeasibility-test.html

The defeasibility test is perhaps the single most important preliminary and fundamental question to any discussions about God.

Again, thanks for taking the time to read and respond to many of my posts.