Friday, April 24, 2009

On the Existence of God and the Coutier's Reply

 
Atheists and theists often discuss the existence of God. Unfortunately, these discussions often degenerate into classic Christian apologetics where the main goal of the theist is to rationalize why his or her god doesn't conflict with rationality.

Before long they are rambling on about how to resolve the problem of evil or why god doesn't reveal herself. These problems only exist once you've accepted the premise that there is a god/spirit. This sort of apologetics has nothing to do with the fundamental question of whether god exists in the first place.

PZ Myers invented the parable of The Courtier's Reply to describe this situation.1 Rather than address the burning question—is the Emperor wearing any clothes?—the believers will complain that you don't understand the latest fashion.

They say you can't have a serious discussion about the existence of god because you aren't versed in the sophisticated arguments of Christian apologetics. In other words, you have to be intimately familiar with all the ways of rationalizing superstitious belief in god before challenging the very existence of god.2

It's amazing how few theists get the point. The latest person to demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of simple logic is Joe Hinman at Atheistwatch. Hinman has a Master's degree in Theology and he is currently studying for a Ph.D. in the history if ideas. He exposes himself by complaining about Anti-Intellectual Tendencies in Atheism.
So What this courtier's reply is saying is that if the skeptic says stupid things about theology and demonstrates that he knows nothing about it and the theist says "O your criticism is invalid because you don't understand what you are criticizing" then all the atheist has to do is say "that's the courtiers reply" and the theist is supposed to go "O my God, I've violated a law of logic!" and give up and stop believing in God. But in realty it's into a log of logic, I never heard it in a logic class.It's not in a logic text book, and the meaning of it is silly. I'ts just saying 'You can't point out my ignorance of theology because I will not allow theology to have any kind of validity or importance and religious people may not not any sort of human dignity." That's all it's saying. It's nothing more than anti-intellectual stupidity.

...

This anti-intellectual tendency is not confined to this one tactic. The new tactick, which I have noticed for a few years now, is to deny any sort of discipline of scholarship that has developed within the theological community. So any self defense that a believer could make is automatically suspect and wrong merely becasue it is theological. But then one wonders how the skeptics knowledge that theology is all bull shit could ever have developed in the first place? When we consider the history of Biblical scholarship it becomes clear that the atheists are merely arguing in a circle.

The history of scholarship shows us that it was not invented in answer to pressing atheist attacks on the bible.
Bingo! Christian apologetics was developed by people who believe in god. They needed to explain why their beliefs seem inconsistent with the real world. Many of these rationalizations are extremely "sophisticated" as you might expect since the problem is difficult.

I don't give a damn about those rationalizations no matter how many books have been written. Atheists don't have a problem with evil or sin or life after death or the resurrection. It's only theists who have a problem.

If Joe Hinman wants to explain why he is a theist then I'd be happy to discuss that topic. What's his best evidence for the existence of a spiritual world?


1. Also see The Emperor's New Clothes and the Courtier's Reply.

2. It's like saying that you have to learn how to cast a horoscope before you can question astrology.

27 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. We are also biased against Holocaust denial because we are not anti-Semitic enough I guess.

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  3. Atheists don't have a problem with evil or sin...I wouldn't have put it quite that way (makes you sound like stalin or pol pot).

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  4. Presumably, Hinman's blog is called Atheistwatch so he can keep an eye on atheists and criticize their anti-intellectual tendencies.

    If so, his argument would be stronger if his grammar, sentence structure, spelling and capitalization were correct.

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  5. Theology and apologetics are different things: theology assumes the existence of God; apologetics attempts to establish the existence of God.

    There's no reason for atheists and skeptics to be particularly well-versed in theology, but we should understand apologetics. Fortunately, it's not so tough: We have Anslem, Aquinas and Pascal. Modern apologetics are either a ridiculous farce (e.g. "evidentiary" apologetics) or vacuous nonsense. Only Plantinga manages some subtlety, at least in obfuscating the circularity of his argument.

    The only question we need to ask theologians is: how do you know?

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  6. @Vronvron - Joe is dyslexic so I guess that excuses his spelling. His vicious personal attacks and insane arguments are still valid criticisms. He used to have a real fondness for wild colours, caps lock and an array of mixed fonts which he has mercifully given up, count yourself lucky :)

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  7. The Barefoot Bum :

    I believe it's more correct to say that apologetics is justification that G-d exists, i.e. starting with a claim or assertion that G-d exists and "justifying" it, not establishing that G-d exists, which would start with G-d not existing and showing that G-d does.

    Certainly the dictionary definitions I've seen have it defined in terms of justification ("defending" a claim or assertion already made), not establishing.

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  8. Heraclides: Your point is trivial. Establish, justify; English is sufficiently flexible that either word may be used informally.

    Regardless, the arguments used to "justify" the existence of God are laughably deficient.

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  9. I just wandered into this blog via a Google groups search which led me to a group where an argument gave me a link to this site.

    I'm sorry, Barefoot Bum, establish and justify are two entirely different things. We need not muddle the English language any further than careless usage has already done.

    The question for theologians: "How do you know?"

    It's a valid question. How do you know the Washington monument exists if you haven't been there personally? Pictures, maps, the word of people who have been there can give you a sense that it is real and what it is.

    But that's not like walking up the stairs inside it. When you've done that you have a different appreciation for what the Washington Monument is and what it means to you.

    It is like that with faith and God and theology. You can read about it til the cows come home, but if you do not personally experience it, you have no real frame of reference.

    On the other hand, once you have experienced the power of God, no one can shake your faith in Him. I'm not talking about a touchy-feely thrill kind of thing. I'm talking about the power to survive the unsurvivable, to defeat the undefeatable, to stand against an evil and prevail.

    If all I had was logic and argument, I'd be at a real disadvantage in this conversation. I'm not particularly erudite nor widely read in the philosophy area.

    I have no problem with evil or sin. They exist. I don't have to be convinced. I also believe that every action carries within itself the seed of it's own reward or punishment. Every action has a logical consequence.

    If I jump off a ledge, I will not fall up. It doesn't matter whether I believe in gravity. It operates anyway.

    If I stick my hand in a flame, it will get burned. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

    If I believe in God and heaven and hell and satan, and if I live my life under those principles, and it turns out I'm wrong, I've lost nothing.

    If I refuse to believe in God and heaven and hell and satan, and live my life by those principles, and it turns out I'm wrong, I've lost eternal life.

    Which is the more reasonable course of action?

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  10. Judith Robl says,

    It is like that with faith and God and theology. You can read about it til the cows come home, but if you do not personally experience it, you have no real frame of reference.

    On the other hand, once you have experienced the power of God, no one can shake your faith in Him. I'm not talking about a touchy-feely thrill kind of thing. I'm talking about the power to survive the unsurvivable, to defeat the undefeatable, to stand against an evil and prevail.


    I think we all understand that phenomenon. We see millions of examples of people who have an unshakable faith in some experience that has happened to them. The question is, are these people deluded or not?

    I presume you know about people who claim to have been abducted by UFO's? They are absolutely convinced that their experience is valid and real. Do you believe them? If not, why not?

    We all need to be on guard against falling prey to delusions. If you find yourself relying solely (souly?) on personal experience in order to convince others of your belief then that should immediately set off alarm bells.

    Step back and ask yourself whether your particular experience is any different in principle than that of the UFO abductee—or any other widely held delusion.

    If I believe in God and heaven and hell and satan, and if I live my life under those principles, and it turns out I'm wrong, I've lost nothing.

    Pascal's Wager is a logical fallacy. The easiest way to demonstrate this by reductio ad absurdum.

    Do you believe the following ....?

    Satan is the one true God and the God of the Bible is a fraud. If I live my life worshiping Satan then I will be rewarded in the afterlife. If Satan doesn't exist then I have lost nothing.

    On the other hand, if I refuse to worship Satan when He actually exists then I've lost eternal life.

    Therefore I should worship Satan as the one true god.


    Do you accept that this is a valid argument for Satan worship?

    Furthermore, it is not true that you have lost nothing if you spend your life believing in gods that don't exist. You will have sacrificed a great deal of your life to a falsehood and you will have forfeited any chance to make a better society based on truth rather than lies.

    Your children and subsequent generations will suffer because your false beliefs prevented you from making the world a better place.

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  11. If I believe in God and heaven and hell and satan, and if I live my life under those principles, and it turns out I'm wrong, I've lost nothing. -

    Worst. Apologetic. Ever.

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  12. I'm sorry, you missed the Washington Monument analogy.

    The experiential side of belief in God only has validity when you have explored the independent evidence for such belief.

    I leave it to you to decide what the independent evidence is.

    You might check out the works of Lee Strobel.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Lee+Strobel+books&x=12&y=18

    But verify his credentials to your own satisfaction before you read his works, please.

    I am not a philosopher, nor an apologist. I speak only what I know to be true as evidenced by both my experience and outside validation.

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  13. Judith Robl says,

    You might check out the works of Lee Strobel.

    But verify his credentials to your own satisfaction before you read his works, please.


    Strobel has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a Masters of Studies in Law degree from Yale. The Master of Studies in Law degree is for jounralists who want to learn about the law without becoming attorneys.

    According to Wikipedia, Strobel was a pastor at various evangelical churches from 1989 to 2002. Now he spends most of his time writing books. He's a rather ordinary Christian apologist.

    What is it about those credentials that's supposed to impress?

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  14. "What is it about those credentials that's supposed to impress?"

    You missed his fourteen years as an investigative journalist with the Chicago paper.

    Perhaps you need to go deeper than Wiki in your research.

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  15. "Investigative journalist" is supposed to impress us? 'Cuz it doesn't. And even if Strobel's credentials were genuinely impressive (eg: history and archeology would, at least, be relevant. Journalist, not so much), that only gets you so far -- ultimately, it's the quality of the argument presented that counts.

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  16. So read his arguments, then.

    The major point is that he set out to disprove Christianity. It was his stated goal to prove atheism was the correct worldview.

    He spent two years diligent work on it, and he came to the opposite conclusion.

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  17. So read his arguments, then.

    I've read his arguments; Strobel is a doofus, persuasive only to those who lack basic critical thinking skills and standards

    Others have done the heavy lifting criticizing Strobel's work, so I'll let them speak:

    Paul Doland: The Case Against Faith: A Critical Look at Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith:

    Many critics of Strobel's prior work, The Case for Christ, complained that he didn't bother including the opinions of any skeptics. Perhaps in answer to this complaint, Strobel's first interview is with Charles Templeton, a former minister who is now an agnostic and has left the ministry. This is a good interview, and, in fact, does a good job at raising some of the questions that many people have about the Christian faith. But it should be noted that Strobel interviews one skeptic, in the beginning of the book, and interviews eight believers to answer Templeton's questions. Essentially, eight believers are given the opportunity to rebut Templeton's questions, but no skeptic is allowed to rebut the believers.

    Strobel's supporters say that this is fair because he intended to write an apologetic, not a balanced point/counterpoint
    .

    Jeffery J. Lowder: The Rest of the Story (Review of Lee Strobel The Case for Christ):

    In light of Strobel's frequent reminders that he used to be a hard-nosed, skeptical journalist, I skimmed the table of contents and index to see which critics of Christianity he interviewed. In so doing, I discovered a glaring deficiency in Strobel's journalism: Strobel did not interview any critics of Christian apologetics, even though he attacks such individuals in his book. For example, Strobel devotes an entire chapter to his interview of Greg Boyd (an outspoken faultfinder of the Jesus Seminar), yet Strobel never interviewed a single member of the Jesus Seminar itself! Likewise, he repeatedly criticizes Michael Martin, author of Case Against Christianity, but he never bothered to get Martin's responses to those attacks. This hardly constitutes balanced reporting on Strobel's part; indeed, on this basis, one is tempted to dismiss the entire book.

    More critiques of Strobels works at The Secular Web.

    Sorry, Lee Strobel is just as full of fail as Pascal.

    Keep trying, Judith. Maybe you'll stumble upon a good argument by pure chance.

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  18. Sorry, guys. I've already spent too much time on this.

    Bye, now.

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  19. I'm pretty late to this post, but I just had to comment on this hilarious juxtaposition from Judith:

    "We need not muddle the English language any further than careless usage has already done."

    Followed a little later by:

    "I'm talking about the power to survive the unsurvivable, to defeat the undefeatable..."

    It seems most arguments for gods are exercises in muddling language.

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  20. From May of 2009 to September of 2010 - yes, you are a little late. Move on already. I have.

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  21. It's very, very simple, and I can state it so simply that a Ph.D. in Theology might understand:

    If you start from observation, continue through first principles, and describe the endpoints of our environs as best as you can, as shaped by empirical data, you get a wide and robust universe. At no point is theology a necessary component of this investigation.

    Similarly, if you do the same with the human condition, proceeding through psychology through to neurology, the need to consult a theologian never arises.

    Further, there's very good evidence that predictions made by theologians tend to prove false once we pull back the veil far enough.

    In short, theology's bullshit because (a) it's unneeded, (b) its predictions are largely inconsistent with reality, and (c) it necessarily presupposes a claim for which evidence is thin, if present at all.

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  22. Fordi said...

    It's very, very simple, and I can state it so simply that a Ph.D. in Theology might understand:

    If you start from observation, continue through first principles, and describe the endpoints of our environs as best as you can, as shaped by empirical data, you get a wide and robust universe. At no point is theology a necessary component of this investigation.

    Similarly, if you do the same with the human condition, proceeding through psychology through to neurology, the need to consult a theologian never arises.

    Further, there's very good evidence that predictions made by theologians tend to prove false once we pull back the veil far enough.

    In short, theology's bullshit because (a) it's unneeded, (b) its predictions are largely inconsistent with reality, and (c) it necessarily presupposes a claim for which evidence is thin, if present at all.


    No your assertion is false. You are still assuring the only possible kind of proof is nothing other than physical empirical data.

    You have to approach it phenomenologically because that w hat it is. It's not a physical thing inside you, the supernatural is in you, not a psychosocial thing outside you.

    First of all you have no concept of what theolgoians do like most atheists you are totally dedicated to not finding out.

    secondly, the courtier's reply i s the height of ignorance.Its "don't learn, just judge, We don't need to know all we need what we want to be true."

    The physical universe is going to look the same under a God infused universe or an atheist world view. Atheists want to make reality and truth about scinece and visible empirical data because that's all you can understand. But that's not all there is to the real.

    A huge body of scientific empirical work proves that religion is rationally warranted. you have to engage that material on it's own ground not demand that it deal with your concerns.

    What you are really saying is nothing more than "religion is not science so therefore it's wrong. science is the only form of knowledge." that's a lie.

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  23. Presumably, Hinman's blog is called Atheistwatch so he can keep an eye on atheists and criticize their anti-intellectual tendencies.

    If so, his argument would be stronger if his grammar, sentence structure, spelling and capitalization were correct.

    It's called that because atheism is a cult, a hate group, and atheists brain washed.

    Just like America's watch is a human rights orgnaizatino that keeps tabs death squads in central America. Atheist watch keeps tabs on hate group atheism.

    oddly enough I've seen so little actual thinking on the part of atheist it's absurd. so far most atheists unable to grasp the concepts with which I'm dealing.

    It's funny you have brain washed yourself in to accepting scientism and the idea that scinece is the only valid pursuit next to hedonism and yet they demand that "atheism is nothing more than the lac of a belief." But when you say "what is knwoledge, athetis" they say 99.9% "the only knowledge is science."

    didn't you guys on this blog say that in saying "look around at everything you wont see anything that needs theology" isn't that just another way of science is all there is?

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  24. Theology and apologetics are different things: theology assumes the existence of God; apologetics attempts to establish the existence of God.

    Apologetics is not just limited to the question of God.

    There's no reason for atheists and skeptics to be particularly well-versed in theology,

    This is one of the atheists gravest mistakes. there's a huge reason. Without that you can't really understand what religion is about. most of the stupid things atheists say are due to the refusal to learn theology. Its' quite idiopathic to think you can bad mouth a 2000 year old tradition and not learn about it.

    what if I said "I don't know anything about science, and I refuse to learn because I know science is stupid." I know what you would say you would be right, but that's exactly what you are saying about theology.


    You are making a circular. You don't know anything so you don't don't understand why people believe it, but you want to judge why they believe it yet you refuse to learn their real reasons.

    Does that really make sense to you?

    Most of the time atheists get wrong what they are saying about religious belief becuase you refuse to learn about it.

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  25. About the OP he says I am missing fundamental aspects of logic but look at what he said. I exposed the so called "courtier's replay years ago in an article about this very blog. But He just repeated the same thing

    I get that the little unfair gimmick says that theology is faking it and people just go along out f fear and everyone's afraid to admit it. I guess he thinks little story is brilliant, I learned it when I was a small child, it's just a gimmick.

    If you learned theology and understand what it's about you would see that it's not faking it, it's deeply insight but you are too wrapped up in a shallow pseudo-science that supports your deep need to feel Superior. You are long past the days when you are able to critical evaluate your own position.

    The truth is if anyone is doing the pretense of having a suit of clothes when they naked it's the atheists. In order to make atheist seem scientific you have to be into pseudo-science because scinece is not about disproving God it's not about metaphysics or ontology, it's not about ultimate truth, one thing and one thing only; understandings the workings of the psychosocial world.

    Science works by empirical observatory. God is not given empirical observation. That doesn't mean there's no God, it means God snot one of the things that can scinece talk about.

    you are still trying to do the pretense that you have this big thing that disproves God but you don't. All you really have is an ideology based upon pseudo-science that pretends it can rule out God out of the world, while real science doesn't pretend to be able to talk about God either way.

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