Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Challenge to Theists and their Accommodationist Supporters

Jerry Coyne is to be congratulated for reading The Huffington Post. I can't be bothered, but I'm happy when he finds something interesting [CfI declares war on atheists].

His latest discovery is a childish rant by John Shook, Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Inquiry. Like Jerry Coyne, I am terrbily disappointed in the American branch of the Center for Inquiry. If the kind of nonsence they're spreading ever begins to contaminate the Centre for Inquiry in Canada then I will quite the organization. (I am currently a CFI Canada Advisory Fellow.)

Here's what Shook says in his HuffPo article [For Atheists and Believers, Ignorance Is No Excuse].
Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can't comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can't believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. The mythological story told by atheists recounts how religion arose through vast ignorance and perversity. A plague upon humanity, really, infecting the dimwitted or foolish with viral memes about spirits and gods. If there's no arguing with irrational people or dumb viruses, what's to be done?

Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology. They either dismiss the subject as irrelevant, or, if they do bother to acknowledge it, slim refutations of outdated arguments for a medieval God seem enough. Atheists cheer on such bold leadership, but what is really being learned? Challenging religion's immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion's intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won't effectively criticize what you would not understand. The "know-nothing" wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.
The question before us is whether there is a God or there isn't. So far, I have not been convinced by any argument in favor of supernatural beings. Every single argument that I've encountered seems flawed. Many of them are stupid and nonsensical.

I am not a "know-nothing." I've made a big effort to learn the latest arguments for the existence of God. I've attended lectures by well-known theists and by well-known accommodationists. I read their books. I read their articles. I've even attended courses on religion.

I'm not going to embarrass the theists and accommodationists by listing the really stupid books written by people in the theist camp. John Shook has pointed out the worst of the theist arguments. Here's four books that supposedly represent the best of modern religious arguments for the existence of God ...
  • The Big Questions in Science and religion. by Keith Ward (Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Oxford University), Templeton Foundation Press, West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania (2008)
  • Belief: Reading on the Reason for Faith edited by Francis Collins, HarperOne, New York (2010)
  • Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science by Michael Ruse, Cambridge University Press, New York (2010)
  • The Dawkin's Delusion: Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine. by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (2007)
This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link.

Try and make it concise and to the point. It would be nice if it's less than 100 years old. Keep in mind that there are over 1000 different gods so it would be helpful to explain just which gods the argument applies to.

I don't care where they post the argument, just get on with it. I'm not interested in any other details about theology. Those points only become relevant once you've convinced this atheist that you have a rational argument for the existence of God. Don't bother telling me how you reconcile your God with evil, or why you believe in miracles, or why transcendence is important in your life, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Don't insult my intelligence by pointing out that religion has done a lot of good things in the past as if that were proof of the existence of the supernatural. Don't be silly enough to try proving god by telling me that religion makes people feel good. So does chocolate, and wine.

Let's stop the whining about how "know-nothing" atheists are ignoring the very best arguments for the existence of God. Come on, all you theists and accommodationists, put your money where your mouth is. Give us something of substance instead of hiding behind The Courtier's Reply. Let's see the angels.

I'm betting that wimps like John Shook and his accommodationist friends don't have a damn clue what they're talking about. I'm betting that they haven't the foggiest notion of any new and sophisticated arguments for the existence of God that the New Atheists haven't already addressed. I'm betting they're just blowing smoke in order to provide cover for their theist friends in the hope of saving them from intellectual embarrassment.1

That's why he says in his article ...
Christian theology has come a long way since St. Thomas Aquinas. Under stress from modern science and Enlightenment philosophy, it has explored cosmological, ethical, emotional, and existential dimensions of religious life. Many kinds of theology have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional arguments for God with robust methods of defending religious viewpoints. There are philosophical atheists who have quietly and successfully kept pace. The discipline of atheology is quite capable of matching these theologies with its skeptical replies, so atheists need not be intimidated. Taking theology seriously enough to competently debate God should not be beneath atheism.
Too bad he doesn't mention even one of those supposedly robust new arguments for the existence of supernatural beings. Could it possibly be because they don't exist?

Guess we'll find out pretty soon. I'll wait for one week.


1. They may also want to be saving themselves since many accommodationists have spent a lifetime studying theology. It must be embarrassing to be told that their life's work is no more important than studying fairy tales.

554 comments :

  1. I think you already got the only answer you're going to get: These sophisticated arguments exist but we won't tell you where or what they are.

    I honestly can't understand how so many religion-defenders say this (including the final quote you use)! Why can they never name a single argument or author? It's some weird logical disconnect.

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  2. Don't forget Shook's book is coming out, so maybe he gives the best arguments in that. We must buy it to be educated and not ignorant! Buy! Buy! Bu....sorry, what came over me?

    Kele - the reason no names are mentioned is the same reason Phil Plait mentioned gave no specific evidence - it's so obvious, the arguments and people are all around you and trivially easy to find. Like me, you must be a really lazy atheist. I hang my head in shame...not!

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  3. Premise 1: Eric Clapton is God.
    Premise 2: Eric Clapton exists.
    Ergo: God exists.

    Easy.

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  4. Anonymous said:
    Premise 1: Eric Clapton is God.
    Premise 2: Eric Clapton exists.
    Ergo: God exists.

    Easy.


    I disagree, Duane Allman is God, He just collaborated slowhand

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  5. I'm thinking what God brings out as his best argument, is the best argument:

    "Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." (Isa 46:9-10)

    So fulfilled prophecy is the evidence, and we may even note that there are falsifiable prophecies, such as "Babylon will never be rebuilt or reinhabited" (Isa. 13:19-20, Jer. 25:12, Jer. 51:26), and it appears it hasn't been, though people have tried. Meaning Alexander the Great, and recently, Saddam Hussein.

    More such thoughts here, from various discussions of such prophecies.

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  6. Recently I asked something similar and so far have received no serious replies. This is what I find frustrating about the back and forth. If you dare use science for something you're accused of scientism (and that means they can ignore the criticism), you're always so ignorant and you hide behind the Courtier's Reply (which I think is about as valid a response than accuse someone who dismisses astrology for not being able to make a birth chart), all criticism is done in such a disrespectful tone, yet there's very little in taking the objections seriously and making a case. It makes as much sense as arguing against the US healthcare bill on account of death panels.

    When I take away claims of scientism, not taking theology seriously, and outrage, I find there's very little left. Perhaps there is, but it's hard to tell when the main complaints are about the demarcation problem and whether one should have immersed themselves in Aboriginal Dreamtime before speaking out. If there's reason to it, then give the reason without all the hand-waving about how the critics miss the mark.

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  7. So fulfilled prophecy is the evidence,

    The rooster crowed, and the sun came up, therefore the rooster made the sun come up.

    It's written that some prophet said something wouldn't happen, that something didn't happen, therefore that prophesy was fulfilled.

    Erm.....

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  8. As far as I can tell faith is a belief held deeply in the unconscious brain. It is fuelled by emotional drives and almost impervious to rational argument. Whether it is 'true' or not is not significant as long as the emotional drives are satisfied.

    Theology appears to be a hypertrophied conscious rationalization of the behaviours arising from the unconscious beliefs.

    Even if theology could produce a cast iron argument in support of faith there still needs to be further work to show that the faith itself was not based on an illusion or delusion.

    The observed fact that there are many faiths, many rationalisations, and no convincing objective proof after thousands of years of searching suggests to me that there is little possibility of objective proof being found.

    I even acknowledge that my belief in being rational is just as much down to my emotional drives as any other belief.

    It doesn't bother me that people believe in various gods, or sports teams, or TV programs, or celebrities, particular hobbies, or political parties. I do push back when they try and impose their subjective preferences on me.

    I've given up waiting for the killer explanation of God. I don't think there is one.

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  9. After 40 some years of listening to stories from believers, I've resorted to asking them for hard empirical evidence, reminding them that without empirical evidence, any philosphical speculation is just mental masturbation. Funny, they never deliver.

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  10. Never mind evidence; I'd simply be satisfied if somebody could come up with a logically-coherent definition of the term, "god." You know? One that doesn't include such logical absurdities equivalent to "a triangle with two right angles" or "the largest prime number"?

    Cheers,

    b&

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  11. This reminds of sitting in a basement, oh, 20+ years ago, playing a rousing game of D&D, and the discussion turned to dwarves and gnomes within the game, and someone said, "But in real life female gnomes are larger than male gnomes!"

    There was a pause, and we all slooowly backed away from the speaker...


    All the "arguments" from evil and other sundry things can be summed up thusly: prove that god (pick a god, any god) exists. We can talk about why god lets evil exist or who created the creator, but it is only a thought exercise within the boundries of the game.

    In real life, female gnomes just aren't.

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  12. If there is any argument for the existence of gods that is not based on wishful thinking, special pleading, word games or "I feel it in my heart", then I have not heard of it yet. The question is simply how deep a individual apologist will hide the fallacy under obfuscating language.

    Indeed curious how people who say there are better ones around hardly ever spell them out. Who knows, maybe someone can meet your challenge. Not holding my breath though...

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  13. How is it possible to decide which fictional being is to be adulated? There are so many and they are all so all knowing and all powerful that I am unable to decide which is the best. Why can't one of them come down from above(or where ever they come from) and demonstrate that they are the one? Gosh, that would really help.

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  14. BTW, all of the female dwarfs in my house really are bigger than the males. But, it doesn't matter because they all fit nicely into my microwave. I have a very nice sauce recipe, too.

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  15. @Ben Goreng
    One that doesn't include such logical absurdities equivalent to "a triangle with two right angles"...

    Sorry to get all pedantic on you (okay, fine, not really all that sorry, I love this shit) - but you can get a triangle with two or even three right angles if that triangle is scribed on a curved plane.

    Best example is if the plane is spherical, such as the surface of the Earth is (approximately).

    1) Stand at any point on the equator, and head in a straight line to the north pole.
    2) Turn 90° to the right.
    3) Continue forwards until the equator again.
    4) Turn 90° to the right.
    5) Continue on until you reach your starting point.
    6) Turn 90° to the right.
    7) You should now be facing the north pole again.

    This might sound facetious, and people like to disagree. But it's true - the second you move beyond a flat Euclidean plane, a lot of the old caveats about geometry don't apply any more.

    This technique is also very interesting, because it allows us to measure the curvature of the universe. It's cool stuff. Laurence Krauss explains it in a lecture. I won't attempt to paraphrase him here - I'm no physicist. But he has a lecture that is very much worth listening to. Check it out.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    Now, moving back on topic:

    I always thought that theology was all about starting from the assumption that God exists and trying to match that assumption against reality. The various contortions and paths that must be taken to reconcile the assumption with an unhelpful reality constitute what is 'learned' from the exercise, for want of a better term.

    For that reason, I always though that theology has no role to play when the desired conclusion is the existence of God. You can't assume your conclusion in the attempt to prove that conclusion, after all.

    So I always thought theology was considered to be formally impotent as a prosthelytizing tool.

    I'd be interested to see if any theologians stop by to back up or contradict that view. Don't think it's going to happen, mind you. But it would be interesting.

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  16. @Lee Merrill
    falsifiable prophecies, such as "Babylon will never be rebuilt or reinhabited" (Isa. 13:19-20, Jer. 25:12, Jer. 51:26), ...
    Given the time stretch, it can be argued that this was falsified. According to Wikipedia, Babylon was not destroyed at any time these prophets could refer to, as it seems to have been deserted only by 275 BC, afer some 2000 years occupation, and 300-400 years after the prophets. Few cities have stretches of occupation that long.
    Most cities have disappeared over time, so as a general statement this is not a particularly difficult prophecy. Give a prophecy with a specific date that is not a later interpolations. (Isa's prophecies about Sanacherib were false).

    The only valid position seems to me that of DiscoveredJoys: As far as I can tell faith is a belief held deeply in the unconscious brain. It is fuelled by emotional drives and almost impervious to rational argument. Whether it is 'true' or not is not significant as long as the emotional drives are satisfied.
    That is why no answer will ever come to any question about proof of God: faith does not need proof, and does not care about disproof.

    Ihe corollary is that it is a waste of time to battle against faith, and a good time investment to battle silly excrecences as creationism.

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  17. Labels can be a problem. I'd normally think of myself as "accommodation", because I am accommodating to theists, as I understand the word.

    It doesn't mean I think they have any sensible argument, or that they are going to get any better ones. I'm accommodating in the sense that I am not particularly fired up to persuade everyone else of this; and that it doesn't bother me that theists might be friends, family, my local government representative, my grocer, the author of books I like, or the scientist who is working on some subject I'm studying.

    So a quick word here from an accommodationalist -- as I understand the term anyway -- who doesn't see any reason to answer the question you pose.

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  18. sylas says,

    So a quick word here from an accommodationalist -- as I understand the term anyway -- who doesn't see any reason to answer the question you pose.

    In this context, an accommodationist is an atheist who doesn't want vocal atheists to be too critical of belief in the supernatural.

    Those accomodationists advance several arguments in support of their attacks on the so-called "New Atheists."

    1. They don't like the idea that the very personal beliefs of theists are being challenged. This seems too personal and insulting.

    2. They don't want to alienate the more benign theists with whom they would like to form alliances on other issues.

    3. They claim that the "New Atheist" strategy is ineffective and may actually be counter-productive because nobody listens to radicals.

    4. They claim that the "New Atheists" are naive and uninformed about theology so their arguments against God are worthless.

    I'm addressing the last point, one which is strongly advocated by many accommodationists, especially the ones who are philosophers.

    An accommodationist isn't just someone who is tolerant of the beliefs of others. You and I are both tolerant people. An accommodationist is one who advocates making some kind of accommodation to his/her principles in order to avoid offending believers.

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  19. I would go a little further in terms of defining accomodationism since it is not a question of being deferential or polite to members of every faith. I don't know any accomodationist that shows polite respect to the belifs of Fred Phelps or Kent Hovind in the same way they show deference to the beliefs of mainstream Christians. This shows the political nature of tAhe question. If tje Scientologists or Mormons were a majority then you could bet we'd be hearing calls for respect for the idea of Xenu and Jesus visiting America.

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  20. > Heleen: Most cities have disappeared over time, so as a general statement this is not a particularly difficult prophecy.

    Prophesying that Babylon would be destroyed would indeed seem a probable event, eventually.

    > Give a prophecy with a specific date that is not a later interpolations.

    That's the good part about saying Babylon will never be rebuilt / re-inhabited, it can't be post-dated, and it can be falsified at any time.

    I think this is a splendid set-up for the atheists / Muslims / etc., you want to disprove my beliefs? Well, rebuild or reinhabit Babylon.

    Saddam Hussein and Alexander the Great even tried.

    "The Jewish and Egyptian and Assyrian peoples will survive as races" is another such prophecy, let us note Hitler's attempt that failed, with the Jewish people.

    If he was such a fine Christian as some say, he should have been reading his Bible. Can't be done.

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  21. lee_merill, I note that you didn't notice the flaw in your logic.

    Prophesy is a logical fallacy. It doesn't matter whether the event will or will not ever occur, because there's no way to show a connection between prophet and prophesy. You just assume that it was fulfilled because you already believe in prophesy. If you didn't believe in prophesy, you'd want proof of prophesy, which would require proof of God. Instead, you use prophesy as proof of God, which begs the very question we're looking at. As it stands, pointing a prophet and a prophesy is no more helpful than pointing at a rooster which crowed before the sun came up.

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  22. shorter Brian: Show us that a god exits, and then we'll talk prophets and religions.

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  23. > You just assume that it was fulfilled because you already believe in prophesy.

    Nope, I believe they are fulfilled because there is no mayor of Babylon, nor any such city, and because there are still Jewish, and Egyptian, and Assyrian people.

    The more of these coincidences that stack up, the less likely it is that this is sheer coincidence.

    You may of course postulate some other agent than the Jewish God as the author of these statements, but then I might be inclined to shave with Occam's razor.

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  24. Nope, I believe they are fulfilled

    Exactly, you believe there is such a think as prophesy, which means you believe there is a god. But you can't argue from prophesy to god, as prophesy presupposes god. You're begging the question; is there a God?

    because there is no mayor of Babylon, nor any such city, and because there are still Jewish, and Egyptian, and Assyrian people.

    But that shows nothing. As you state yourself it's a coincidence. A fluke. Just as pointing to the rooster that crowed after the sun came up shows that that rooster made the sun come up.


    You may of course postulate some other agent than the Jewish God as the author of these statements, but then I might be inclined to shave with Occam's razor.


    Postulating an agent, especially one as unecessary and complex as the Jewish God instead of coincidence means you've thrown away Occam's razor. There's no need for an agent, you've unnecessarily multiplied your entities.

    By the way, you're supposed to proved God exists, not ask others to prove your coincidences aren't fulfilled prophesy.

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  25. @ Lee Merrill
    Consult Wikipedia and you'll see that Alexander the Great did not try to rebuilt Babylon: it was a functioning city until after his time. Babylon was not destroyed at the times the prophets wanted it to be destroyed. And you should consult Isa about Sanacherib, because once you start comparing Kings, Chronicles and Isa about Sanacherib you'll understand that Isa's prophecies were not fulfilled (that is you'll see that is you have an open mind about the text).
    Coincidences happen, so they will go on stacking up. It seem rather naive to think 'after' is the same as 'because of'.

    @ Larry Moran
    Four very clear points. Points 2 and 3 are the most important. If people make point 4, it might be because of exasperation that their point 3 is not taken seriously. In fact, that atheists are getting more and more counterproductive, and that they have to do something to get a balance back.
    Point 4 sounds to me as saying to the more radical atheists "shut up, you're as bad as the sillies in the other camp". WEIT in an updat has a quote from this John Shook showing he clearly has an atheist position. So what made him irritated enough to start defending moderate religious positions? Irritation with very vocal atheists?

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  26. "So fulfilled prophecy is the evidence, and we may even note that there are falsifiable prophecies...."

    Such as the prophecy that when the Messiah came, war, death, etc., would stop and the Kingdom of God on Earth would occur. Old Testament prophecies about the World to Come (Olam Ha-Ba) after the Messiah appears:

    Olam Ha-Ba will be characterized by the peaceful co-existence of all people (Isaiah 2:4). Hatred, intolerance and war will cease to exist. Some authorities suggest that the laws of nature will change, so that predatory beasts will no longer seek prey and agriculture will bring forth supernatural abundance (Isaiah 11:6-11:9). Others, however, say that these statements are merely an allegory for peace and prosperity.

    All of the Jewish people will return from their exile among the nations to their home in Israel (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). The law of the Jubilee will be reinstated.

    In the Olam Ha-Ba, the whole world will recognize the Jewish G-d as the only true G-d, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9). There will be no murder, robbery, competition or jealousy. There will be no sin (Zephaniah 3:13). Sacrifices will continue to be brought in the Temple, but these will be limited to thanksgiving offerings, because there will be no further need for expiatory offerings.

    So either Jesus was not the Messiah, or this prophecy has conclusively been proved wrong. Which is your preferred answer?

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  27. It's sort of the opposite of what you asked for, but I happened to have composed a response to Plantinga's modal form of the ontological argument just yesterday, if anybody is interested.

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  28. It seems as if the best arguments for God are as immaterial as he is.

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  29. Lee Merrill in comment 3 makes her approach clear: God exists because my "big book of God" says he exists.

    It's a BOOK! Nothing in the book offers proof of the existence of a creator. Appealing to a book as the supreme authoritative grounding for your beliefs is the problem.

    Leave the book aside and argue for a God. I dare you. :-)

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  30. I think any serious explanation of god belief and religion in general needs to talk about memes. All successful religions make logical sense when viewed as collections of effective memes that through a process of design and social evolution (selection) have come to dominate the current culture. While this view allows an atheist to understand religious believers (they are infected hosts that are motivated to defend and spread their infection), I don't think we will every have a theist who is prepared to discuss their heart felt belief this way.

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  31. I have been studying fairy tales for many years now and I find it to be quite a worthwhile pursuit, so fuck you.

    Of course, I don't pretend that they are true in the literal sense, but I don't see why that should make it unhelpful to study them.

    Theology is less helpful than studying folklore because it proceeds from the assumption that its myths are true, which discourages critical examination of them. It's like assuming that just because somebody wrote a book about a dragon, that dragon must have literally existed (yet having no problem acknowledging that all of the other crucial details of the story are fictitious as long as you can cling to the existence of the dragon). I can't think of a less helpful approach to studying literature.

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  32. It's pretty absurd to say that an "accommodationist," i.e. an atheist, would accept a solid argument for the existence of God.

    But, as someone who definitely fits in most people's category of "faitheist" or what have you, here's my argument for accommodationism:

    1) People have personal experiences with something that appears to them to be divine.

    2) Not having access to their experiences, I have no reason to believe that their experiences are invalid.

    3) Therefore, insofar as there are no testable consequences, I feel obligated to respect, though not to agree with, their interpretation of their experiences.

    (There's a lot of sophistication to the last that I'm leaving out for purposes of concision, but will readily post.)

    Arguments from ideas other than personal experience I treat much less respectfully.

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  33. The argument that you guys have missed is this, God is omniscient and omnipresent. When he sent his son to Earth 2000 years ago, he knew all about the geysers on Enceladus and the other wonders of the solar system.

    So the persecution of Galileo at al was just a test, a whimsical joke if you like, and the punch line will be when we find the nativity scene on Titan.

    QED

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  34. Good news, Lee! This site is also god. Check out what it prophesises for me, a Gemini:

    "You may be ready for some major career changes, Gemini. You could be fed up with the stress and long hours of the corporate environment. Surely in this age of technology there's a way to spend more time at home without sacrificing the quality of your work. Think about it for a few days. If you propose a feasible alternative to your boss, the positive response may surprise you."

    I totally am ready for a career change! What a coincidence!

    But wait, it would seem there's another prophesying deity in the cosmos:

    "You're on the move once again, and you are feeling good about the new direction. In fact, you may not even be paying much attention to the destination, as the journey is all-consuming!"

    Why, just tomorrow I happen to be leaving on a short trip to meet my girlfriend, where we'll spend a week together. It's even true that I don't care about where we go, as long as we're together!

    Two separate, and accurate prophesies? And those were just from the first two hits on Google for "horoscope"! How unlikely is that?

    I hope you don't mind converting to polytheism. Hallelujah!

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  35. So if AJKamper, after a big night on the town, says spiders are crawling all over his body, yet no spiders are visible, I need to "respect his interpretation" since I can't feel the crawling sensation myself.

    How many logic courses have you flunked, dude?

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  36. Steve:

    The spiders hypothesis is a touch more testable; considering that I specifically stated "insofar as there are no testable consequences," it seems to me that your reading comprehension is far too poor for you to be making snide comments about others' logic.

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  37. 48 hours later, and so far Lee Merrill has taken the lead as the b(rav)est theologian in the world!

    Maybe others would challenge him or her for the title if a tangible award were to be announced... Where is the Templeton Foundation when we really need them?

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  38. AJ is still having logic problems, I see. If there's an "experience", then that IS a testable consequence. We can investigate where it comes from. Now, we know that religious feelings can be stimulated by chemical or electrical means (either exogenously, or endogenously as in the case of epilepsy- to which we owe the Koran by the way.) Wake me up when there are DATA showing that such feelings can also be stimulated by "non-natural" causes, whatever that might even mean. Paging William of Occam! Report to Sandwalk, stat.

    Religious people, like all people, deserve respect. Their beliefs don't. Nor does your silly accomodationism.

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  39. I can't believe someone is actually using as a reference a fictional book whose text had not been codified at all during the time Babylon was destroyed and maybe not even written until after it!

    We have evidence for when Babylon ceased to be inhabited (not "fell"), you see, a stone tablet that talks about a mass evacuation from the city to Seleucia, dated 275 BCE.

    This doesn't help the case for the "prophecies" because there's just no way to know for sure at this point if the Nevi'm (the prophetic books) were written before 275 BCE. Any evidence that it was would be fascinating to historians, I'm sure.

    It also doesn't help that the Dead Scrolls showed numerous variations in their same books of the Tanakh as late as the early Christian era. There was no consistency in texts, meaning they were constantly being edited or mistakes passed on, or a jillion other mistakes!

    Finally, it would have been astonishingly easy to write a text in the days before document authentication, and claim that it was "older" than the event it predicts. Nitwits still fall for that con.

    Anyone who thinks biblical predications are worth the paper they're written on is dangerously naive.

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  40. 1) People have personal experiences with something that appears to them to be divine.

    2) Not having access to their experiences, I have no reason to believe that their experiences are invalid.

    3) Therefore, insofar as there are no testable consequences, I feel obligated to respect, though not to agree with, their interpretation of their experiences.


    (1) I have had personal experiences with something that seems to me (appears is the wrong word, usually no visual hallucinations accompany my feelings of transcendence) to be divine.
    (2) The feelings described in (1) were similar to but usually not as intense as the feelings of transcendence invoked by experimentation with controlled substances that I may or may not have done (which, if they happened at all, were also often accompanied by quite viridical visual and auditory hallucinations).
    (3) In (2), my experiences were no doubt the result of a change in my body/brain chemistry brought about by ingesting (or maybe not!) various chemicals. But body/brain chemistry is dynamic, and one's subjective state is demonstrably dependent on one's current (but soon to change) body/brain chemistry.
    (4) Therefore, the most likely explanation for feelings of transcendence or contact with the divine is an unusual or rare subjective state brought about by a change in body/brain chemistry. This is because a) we know body/brain chemistry is dynamic, b) we know that at least some changes in it can cause feelings of transcendence, but c) we don't know that there is any such thing as the divine, and d) even if there was, we couldn't be sure it would or could cause feelings of transcendence and e) even if it did cause feelings of transcendence, it's unclear how we could differentiate these from the ones resulting from mere changes in body/brain chemistry.

    You don't have to assume the "experiencer" is lying, just that they're mistaken. And given the average human being's track record on being mistaken, this is quite a likely assumption.

    -Dan L.

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  41. Steve, that's an absurd standard. You are expecting a proof of divine experience. I didn't offer that. I simply said that I can't judge someone's experiences till I've had them. In order to test your idea, we'd pretty much have to sit someone in an MRI and wait till they started talking to God. Which would be kind of fun, but maybe expensive.

    Moreover, there are a lot of experiences which we don't know "where they come from," except in the bluntest, least precise way. Our understanding of the brain is not remotely sufficient yet to prove the exact genesis of every experience.

    That an experience has happened is testable--where it comes from is only fractionally so. We can make someone (though not fully predictably) sense the existence of God--just like we can get someone to see flashes of light when no light is there. That doesn't mean that light doesn't exist.

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  42. @AJKamper: I really do respect your argument, but it seems a bit too easy. You have made me feel like an accommodationist of sorts with your logic.

    Let's say that you follow your own steps to default on an obligation to respect someone's beliefs. But, next, you have to include more information from those beliefs. What if the beliefs include a monthly raping of women to appease their god or gods? It is not enough to say that you will default toward respect if you do not include the types of beliefs (even if they are non-testable) that would not be tolerated by your own personal ethical standards.

    I think many good arguments can be made that mainstream beliefs infringe upon the basic moral dignity of lots of other people and therefore do not obligate respect.

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  43. Dan L:

    Well, yes, I think they're mistaken--or else I wouldn't be an atheist!

    But I'm not willing to assume that because my experiences of divinity (hypothetically--I haven't ever had any in reality) haven't held up to scrutiny means that someone else's are irrational.

    And in cases where someone has no particular reason to believe that one's experiences are mistaken, it's rational to believe the experience of one's senses, isn't it?

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  44. AJ, your gasp of semantics equals your grasp of logic, I see. What Larry and I ask for is not proof- that concept anyway belongs to math, not science- but EVIDENCE. Got any? And remember, we DO have plenty of evidence of natural causes for religious experiences, which is why William has a bone to pick with you.

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  45. And in cases where someone has no particular reason to believe that one's experiences are mistaken, it's rational to believe the experience of one's senses, isn't it?

    It's not the experiences that are "mistaken"- that's a category error, experiences are what they are- but the explanation for them. You DID have an experience of spiders crawling over you after that bender; I don't doubt that.

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  46. Victor Debs:

    Excellent point. Cute, too.

    I guess I have a twofold response:

    1) My argument really only goes as far as the existence of divinity, not associated beliefs. THose usually rely on some magic book, or Statement From Above, or whatever. For magic books like the Bible or Quran, there's enough evidence disproving their divinity that I can ignore or debunk morals from those texts. Alternately, it clearly comes from a corrupt culture, which can be ignored for similar reasons.

    2) But for people who have heard the Word of God, and it tells them to be evil, my feeling is that either they're really sick, e.g. schizophrenic and to be pitied, or else they've found an excuse for believing something they wanted to anyway. Most Abrahams don't put Isaac up on the altar if they want Isaac to live. So the, they're still evil and denouncable.

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  47. Steve:

    Evidence would be if I were trying to convince YOU that it were true. I'm not, and I think it'd be stupid for someone else to.

    I'm just saying that someone with a religious experience has that experience as evidence in and of itself.

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  48. No AJ, they have only the raw experience, but zero evidence to support their preferred supernatural explanation. Whereas I have alternative explanations that ARE supported by evidence. Try harder- this isn't rocket science.

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  49. Funny that no one has yet mentioned the possibility
    that CFI's sudden embrace of accommodationism might have something to do with money. Organizations like CFI must really be hurting for donations in these tough economic times. Templeton Foundation has lots of money available for the right recipients. Do I need to go on...?

    -fyreflye

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  50. "And in cases where someone has no particular reason to believe that one's experiences are mistaken, it's rational to believe the experience of one's senses, isn't it?"

    Except that it's never the case that one has no particular reason to believe that one's experiences are mistaken, AJ.

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  51. But I'm not willing to assume that because my experiences of divinity...haven't held up to scrutiny means that someone else's are irrational.

    But that's not the argument I'm making. See below.

    And in cases where someone has no particular reason to believe that one's experiences are mistaken, it's rational to believe the experience of one's senses, isn't it?

    One has to accede to the fact of one's experience, but the fact of experience doesn't say anything about the cause of the experience. To assume something about the cause of an experience based on the fact or content of it is simply not a valid inference -- because it's so easy for us to be fooled!

    Because we are easily fooled as to the nature of causes of our experiences, I really believe the only justifiable approach to epistemology is skepticism. Thus, I'm not concluding that because my experiences of transcendence were not divinely caused that those of others also aren't -- that would not be a skeptical claim, because it does not follow logically and there's no way to establish direct evidence for such a claim.

    Instead, I'm trying to explain the whole notion of transcendent experiences using as few unwarranted assumptions as possible. I don't need to assume body/brain chemistry affects subjective state -- that's fairly well established. I don't need to assume that certain body/brain chemistries correlate with feelings of transcendence. I do have to assume the causal connection, but there's good indirect evidence for a causal link there. Add to this the fact, not the assumption, that people are often mistaken as to the causes of the experiences.

    I don't need any notion of godhood, divinity, or spirituality to explain feelings of transcendence. In fact, those things make it more complicated to justify or explain because now we have to explain how one knows or even can know the difference between chemically and spiritually induced feelings of transcendence.

    I'm not saying, "God doesn't exist." I'm saying that there's good reasons to disbelieve "God exists." I'm making a negative argument for God's existence, not a positive argument against God's existence. I'm not trying to invalidate people's experiences of God directly, I'm trying to show there's a better (simpler, more parsimonious, better-attested by empirical discoveries) explanation for why they have such experiences.

    -Dan L.

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  52. Steve:

    Again, that's the equivalent of saying that, since we can make someone experience flashes of light without seeing light, then there is no reason to believe that light exists.

    In short, the ability to create the same sensation is an alternative explanation, but it's not sufficiently convincing to meet the Occam standard. You'd have to explain, for one, why the hell we have a part of our brain that creates an experience of divinity.

    It convinces you because you don't want to believe, not because it's actually sufficient into and of itself.

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  53. Oops, hit 'publish' too soon.

    And I've had multiple transcendent experiences, both religiously and pharmacologically induced. Not one of them did I assume they had any closer relationship with reality than last night's dreams. I don't demand that people 'respect' my dreams, so why would I demand that they 'respect' my divine experiences.

    Just because others are uncritical of their senses does not mean I have to be.

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  54. I'm just saying that someone with a religious experience has that experience as evidence in and of itself.


    This is related to what I was saying in my last comment about an experience being evidence for the fact of itself, but not the cause of itself. A religious experience is evidence of an experience that feels religious, not evidence of an experiences that was caused by some divine or spiritual entity or substance.

    -Dan L.

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  55. "Again, that's the equivalent of saying that, since we can make someone experience flashes of light without seeing light, then there is no reason to believe that light exists."

    No, but it means that someone's experience of light is insufficient to believe light exists.

    "You'd have to explain, for one, why the hell we have a part of our brain that creates an experience of divinity."

    Really, AJ? The deity-shaped hole?

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  56. Dan L.

    1) In all honesty, I don't think true epistemological skepticism gets you out of bed in the morning. I mean, yes, you can dismantle ANYTHING with it, but in the end, we tend to believe the results of our experiences unless we're given a specific and concrete reason to doubt it, and that basically passes for rational thought. We all hypothesize, "Absent contrary evidence, the experience of my senses are true" and go from there.

    2) I'm not sure, like I was saying to Steve, that it's obvious and most parsimonious that God-experience is no more than a brain fart. I just don't think our scientific understanding of the brain has advanced that far yet. Or to put it another way, I'm willing to concede the possibility of what one might call "bootstrap experiences"--where the experience is so immediate that it is self-proving to the limit of one's rational thought. So while I personally agree with you, the proof is still a little up in the air.

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  57. (And now I have to go get some actual work done, and probably won't pick up the thread again, but thanks to everyone who gave me good points to think about!)

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  58. @lee_merrill:

    I'll stick with KJV, since that one is, after all, "breathed out by God."

    Isaiah 17:1: The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.

    You know that Damascus is still an active, thriving city, right?

    Isaiah 52:1: Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.

    OK, I'll admit, I'm not willing to check this one. But I'm willing to say without fear of contradiction that there are, in fact, uncircumcised people in Jerusalem today.

    Ezekiel 29:10-11: Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years.

    There has never been a time in all the history of Egypt that it has been uninhabited for forty years. The feet of both men and beasts have passed through it all throughout history.

    Jonah 3:4: And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

    See, now this one gets a little tricky. Nineveh was never overthrown, because God changed his mind in six verses later.
    Jonah 3:10: And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

    But then, what do we make of Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19 and Ezekiel 24:14, where it tells us that God never changes his mind?

    So I think we can call that one a wash, as well.

    Matthew 26:64: Jesus saith unto him (the high priest), Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

    The high priest died without ever seeing Jesus return. In fact, it's been over 2000 years. Maybe He's waiting until He can't whistle through His palm?

    If "fulfilled" prophesy proves that God exists, what does failed prophesy mean? How many more would you like?

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  59. It's interesting to see an accomodationist like AJ helplessly persist with flagrantly invalid arguments even after they are repeatedly refuted. Even though such people avow themselves atheists, they clearly retain a rather strong emotional need to cling to the possibility that some religious beliefs might be founded. This I think is the real agenda, not tender-heartedness toward believers.

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  60. Um, why ask people on the internet for something like this? Turn to real peer-reviewed theology if you're genuinely interested in hearing the best theistic arguments.

    A few off the top of my head:

    1. Kalam cosmological argument
    2. Argument from contingency
    3. Plantinga's modal ontological argument
    4. Maydole's modal perfection ontological argument
    5. Fine-tuning arguments
    6. Argument from reason
    7. Evolutionary argument against naturalism
    8. Moral arguments
    9. prosblogion.ektopos.com is loaded with arguments

    Not all theists are idiotic creationists from Nebraska.

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  61. I don't think you're going to get an argument from an apologist that attempts to convince you that god(s) exist(s). I don't think that apolgetics is, in fact, aimed at the unbeliever. It is aimed instead at the believer who is experiencing doubt. That's why the arguments offered often are based on emotions or refer to sophisticated theology that is not cited. That may be enough to quell the doubt.

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  62. AJKamper says:

    Moreover, there are a lot of experiences which we don't know "where they come from," except in the bluntest, least precise way. Our understanding of the brain is not remotely sufficient yet to prove the exact genesis of every experience.

    That an experience has happened is testable--where it comes from is only fractionally so. We can make someone (though not fully predictably) sense the existence of God--just like we can get someone to see flashes of light when no light is there. That doesn't mean that light doesn't exist.


    If we cannot prove the genesis of every experience, how can we definitively conclude that one's "experience of the divine" confirms another's "experience of the divine" to be even experience of the same thing?

    Secondly, light is proven to exist. That fact that you can make someone 'sense the existence of God' is moot until you can prove the existence of God, otherwise, you might as well say that he 'sensed Bigmu'

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  63. "Turn to real peer-reviewed theology if you're genuinely interested in hearing the best theistic arguments."

    We're not. We're asking those who keep telling us that there are these great theological arguments that we're so dismissive of to demonstrate that they have knowledge of them.

    "Not all theists are idiotic creationists from Nebraska."

    No, but a large voting majority of them are (and further, many deities themselves, such as YHWH, are suppose to claim that it is much harder to believe in them unless you're an idiot creationist from Nebraska, reason being the enemy of faith, and all that.

    If you believe in some nebulous god of the gaps whose existence can only be teased out by the most sophisticated sophistry then good for you, but we do wonder why such individuals are so eager to share their theological umbrella with the savage thug gods of the more homophobic and misogynistic of the Abrahamists.

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  64. Firstly, I just wanted to say how glad I am that you made the distinction between the US CFI and other CFIs around the world. You are the only blogger I have read today (despite reading through a great deal of coverage) that actually made this distinction.

    Secondly, great challenge! This has been one of the most frustrating aspects of talking to theists for me - this endless withholding of key information. "I win the debate because my information is better. What? No, I can't tell you what that information is." I have now reached the point where I ask people, straight from the start, what the best arguments are. I have yet to hear an actual response (other than the typical: "Why are you being so militant?").

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  65. AJKamper says,

    I simply said that I can't judge someone's experiences till I've had them.

    Really?

    There are ten thousand people who are absolutely convinced they've been abducted by aliens. Aren't you the least bit tempted to judge them?

    There are millions of people who claim that homeopathy has cured their disease. Do you think they could be right?

    What about the people who have seen Bigfoot? You are never going to have that experience—trust me on this one. Does that mean you are unable to form a judgment about the existence of Bigfoot?

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  66. Martin, many of us are in fact familiar with the items on your list, and we regard them as having repeatedly been shown to be invalid. That's why Larry was looking for new ones.

    But don't take the lazy way out. Pick what you think is the strongest argument from that list and defend its validity against criticism.

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  67. All question of God's (or gods') existence cannot be questions of existence, but questions about the nature of God. God has to exist if only as a word used by men...(Wittgenstein 101).

    The claim "God doesn't exists." is an illogical proposition of the first rank, as "God" has to mean something, therefore "God" has to have existence to have any sense. Broken down in symbol logic it is G=-G, and by definition an absurdity.

    Is "God" a fable men created?
    Is "God" the creator of the Universe?
    Is "God" love?
    Is "God" the ground of being?
    Is "God" a projection of man's wish fulfilment?
    Is "God" a Delusion
    Etc...

    In EVERY CASE, or any other CASE you can think of is based on some sort of existence for the word, "God." Thus the real question is how does "God" exist and not whether "God" exist.

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  68. I have a word for Odin. Perhaps Tito can explain to us how Odin exists.

    (I've actually seen his German counterpart, Wotan- onstage at the opera. QED!)

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  69. Steve,

    Martin, many of us are in fact familiar with the items on your list, and we regard them as having repeatedly been shown to be invalid.

    Really? Invalid? So the conclusions don't follow from the premises?

    Well that's just not true at all. For instance, one of the moral arguments is modus tollens and thus is perfectly valid.

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  70. 1) In all honesty, I don't think true epistemological skepticism gets you out of bed in the morning...we tend to believe the results of our experiences unless we're given a specific and concrete reason to doubt it, and that basically passes for rational thought.

    You're wrong about epistemological skepticism. I need neither beliefs nor knowledge to get up in the morning -- consider the fact that salamanders (just for one example) also get up in the morning without necessarily possessing anything we might call beliefs or knowledge. I can go about life and experience things without forming definite judgments about the causes or explanations for those experiences. I can live in a world of appearances and deny any deeper reasoning behind my own actions beyond "I did what seemed appropriate to me at the time."

    In fact, I don't think there's anything correct, wise, or rational about trusting the "results" of our experiences -- but what you mean by that is ambiguous. I'll readily believe the fact of my experience -- I have no choice. But as Descartes pointed out, the fact of my experiences are not evidence for any particular cause for those experiences. THIS is the important distinction. If I hear a ringing in my ear, I am not immediately justified in concluding that mechanical waves are being propagated to my ears from some source. If I ask the person sitting next to me whether they are hearing a ringing sound and they are, that is evidence for such a conclusion. But before I seek confirmation through an independent source, my experience is consistent with two plausible causal explanations, and there is no obvious way to distinguish which one is better.

    Thus, I wouldn't deny hearing a ringing sound, but neither would I assent to the notion that there was actually a sound to hear. To figure out whether I should, I need to do some further investigation -- essentially, to try to falsify one or the other proposition. If everyone else in the room denies hearing the sound, then that's evidence that I'm experiencing tinnitus, but not proof -- my hearing may simply be better than theirs.

    At root, skepticism is essentially the position that doubt is a better guide to knowledge than wild guesses. By doubting and trying to disprove certain causal explanations for my experiences, I can more precisely delimit the sorts of causal explanations that would be acceptable. That is, in a nutshell, the idea behind the scientific method.

    2) I'm not sure...that it's obvious and most parsimonious that God-experience is no more than a brain fart...Or to put it another way, I'm willing to concede the possibility of what one might call "bootstrap experiences"--where the experience is so immediate that it is self-proving to the limit of one's rational thought.

    I'm not claiming it's obvious that God-experience is no more than a brain fart, and I'm not claiming it's prima facie parsimonious. The parsimony follows from the fact that facts that are already confirmed by science are sufficient to explain God-experience, and that therefore it is not parsimonious to conjecture that they might be caused by something else that is, either contingently or in principle, completely unknown to science.

    Again, the "caused by" is REALLY important. Your "bootstrap experiences" are fine as far as they go -- experiences ARE self-proving, but they provide neither proof nor evidence in and of themselves about the CAUSE of the experience. This is just the brain-in-a-vat problem.

    I know you're probably done with the thread, but I did want to correct what I thought were misconceptions about a) skepticism in general and b) the specific argument I'm making.

    -Dan L.

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  71. Again, Martin, stop bullshitting and lay out one single argument that you believe to be logically valid. Than we can get to work.

    The modal ontological arguments that I've seen are always question-begging. That means that yes, they are logically invalid. (Plantinga's reply that by this standard all logically valid arguments are question-begging is nonsense.)

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  72. They might follow from their premises, but the premises are false. It's the question of internal vs. external validity. I can "prove" that all dogs are cats if I set up the proper premises. Problem is, the argument has no relationship to the world.

    Each of the arguments you listed there have quick and easy refutations, and all have been dealt with umpteen times. The OP is looking for new ones, not a rehashed list of ancient ones.

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  73. Another problem is that if I claim my conception of the maximally great being is the Easter Bunny, then the argument "works" just as well for him as for Plantinga's God.

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  74. Tito,

    I think any atheist is willing to admit that gods are fables. The question being asked is if any gods exist in the sense that believers think they do.

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  75. 1) In all honesty, I don't think true epistemological skepticism gets you out of bed in the morning.

    Well, I didn't know there was something called "true" epistemological skepticism. I guess my epistemological skepticism must be a "false" epistemological skepticism?

    Salamanders (just for example) get up in the morning without necessarily having beliefs or knowledge of any but perhaps a very rudimentary sort. I can live in a world of appearances, reacting to it as seems appropriate without actually ever affirming the truth of any given proposition (besides propositions about how things seem to me at a given time). This answer was given to your criticism of skepticism before the alleged birth of Jesus Christ, by the way. Perhaps you should read more about skepticism before dismissing it.





    we tend to believe the results of our experiences unless we're given a specific and concrete reason to doubt it, and that basically passes for rational thought.

    It's not clear what you mean by "results." If I hear a ringing sound in my ear, I believe that I hear a ringing sound. But I don't believe that there actually IS a ringing sound; it might just be tinnitus. I need to do a little more work to be able to come to a conclusion about the cause of an experience.

    I don't think there's anything correct, wise, or rational about inferring the cause of an experience from its content, and the fact that everybody does it doesn't prove a thing. If you're trying to show religious people are rational and you define "rational" as "how religious people think," you're just begging the question, right?

    2) I'm not sure, like I was saying to Steve, that it's obvious and most parsimonious that God-experience is no more than a brain fart... I'm willing to concede the possibility of what one might call "bootstrap experiences"--where the experience is so immediate that it is self-proving to the limit of one's rational thought.

    First, you really need to acknowledge the difference between the fact of an experience (for which the experience itself is evidence, as you describe) and the cause of the experience. I am not skeptical about what I experience because it is evidence for itself. I am skeptical about the causes of any particular experience. So much for "bootstrap experiences."

    Second, I'm not arguing that it's obvious or prima facie more parsimonious that God experience is a brain fart. I'm arguing that GIVEN:
    a) we know brain farts CAN cause God experience
    b) there are such things as brain farts
    c) we do not know of anything besides brain farts that can cause God experience
    d) the possibility of the cause suggested for God experience by believers (i.e. God) is not confirmed by any reliably intersubjective evidence
    it's more parsimonious to assume God experience is a brain fart.

    I know you're not participating, but I wanted to address misconceptions about my arguments and skepticism in general.

    -Dan L.

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  76. @ Lee Merrill:

    What about Tyre?

    (Ezekiel 26:7-14)

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  77. "Another problem is that if I claim my conception of the maximally great being is the Easter Bunny, then the argument "works" just as well for him as for Plantinga's God."

    So, you acknowledge that Plantiga's argument is a successful argument for a "maximally excellent", but we can just have syntactic quibbles over what to call it?

    If that's your objection, then I think Plantiga has succeeded.

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  78. Steve,

    OK, one version of the moral argument:

    1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist
    2. Objective moral values exist
    3. Therefore, God exists

    The argument form is modus tollens:

    If P, then Q.
    Not Q.
    Therefore, not P

    Which is a valid syllogism. The conclusion follows logically from the premises.

    All the other arguments are in valid form as well.

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  79. Steve,

    Another problem is that if I claim my conception of the maximally great being is the Easter Bunny, then the argument "works" just as well for him as for Plantinga's God.

    The ontological arguments are for maximally excellent beings. If you want to call it the Easter Bunny, then by all means, go ahead. It doesn't affect the argument.

    You may be right about question begging, however. Although the new one by Maydole seems to make less assumptions. Still trying to wrap my head around it myself.

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  80. crommunist,

    Each of the arguments you listed there have quick and easy refutations

    That's a bold statement. Where, exactly?

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  81. If you want to call it the Easter Bunny, then by all means, go ahead. It doesn't affect the argument.

    It means that the argument doesn't prove what believers want it to, and is thus irrelevant to supporting religion

    But worse, even Plantinga admits there's no good reason to believe in the possible-existence premise anyway, then goes on to say that since there's (supposedly) no good reason NOT to believe it it's a 50/50 proposition. That frankly is pathetic, a professional philosopher should be ashamed of such bilge.

    The argument has inspired most other philosophers with contempt, and many attacks on it have been published. If you're really unfamiliar with them, your pretence of erudition is obviously a sham and it's a waste of time to argue with you.

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  82. 1. Kalam cosmological argument

    If you agree to the premises -- and there are both empirical and analytical reasons not to -- then you've shown only that there is a first cause and called it God. It's completely consistent with a materialist universe in which we've named the big bang "God" -- in fact, since we're pretty sure there's a big bang and we don't know it has a cause (any more than we know God doesn't have a cause), scientific cosmology is more consistent with Kalam than theological cosmology.

    5. Fine-tuning arguments

    All assume that our understanding of fundamental physics and how it's parameterized are essentially complete. No physicist would assent to such a statement. For example, we're not sure what it would mean to change one physical constant leaving the others the same, whether the resulting universe is really a "possible universe" (there may be some deeper structure unknown to us preventing these sorts of things). As soon as one takes a scientific view (methodological naturalism) of physical theories, fine-tuning arguments disappear -- they require an ontological commitment to the truth of current theories (and certain unwarranted extrapolations therefrom), which the scientific method essentially forbids.

    8. Moral arguments

    People do not find the same things moral or immoral. Some people do not find anything immoral, some people think almost everything is immoral. This is an argument against absolute morality, and therefore notions of God that include concepts of absolute morality.

    I haven't checked out the others on your list, but I hope this isn't representative.

    -Dan L.

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  83. So, you acknowledge that Plantiga's argument is a successful argument for a "maximally excellent", but we can just have syntactic quibbles over what to call it?

    No, I acknowledge no such thing. The premise is question-begging (and incoherent as well). That's why I put the word "works" in scare quotes.

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  84. "fulfilled prophecy is the evidence"

    http://www.freethinkersbooks.com/100fbp.htm

    There are many, many examples of God and Jesus making prophecies that fail to come true.

    So it's evidence: very, very strong evidence against.

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  85. 『  Isaiah 52:1: Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.

     OK, I'll admit, I'm not willing to check this one. But I'm willing to say without fear of contradiction that there are, in fact, uncircumcised people in Jerusalem today.』

    I just now read Isaiah 52:1 in the original Hebrew, and noted that the word translated as "unclean" specifically means "ritually unclean", or "tameh" (טמא).

    Leviticus 11 asserts that those who come into contact with a corpse of either a human or certain animals becomes "unclean" in this manner.

    Leviticus 12 adds that women who have just given birth are also unclean.

    And as noted in Leviticus 15, this also applies at the very least to (1) women who are menstruating (2) those who come into contact with women who are menstruating (3) men who ejaculate semen, either from a wet dream or sex, and any putative sex partner. There are other ways of becoming unclean, but the above certainly appear to be things that normal human beings do (or have happen accidentally) fairly regularly.

    So there being people who are unclean in Jerusalem, as well as there being people who are uncircumcised, is a near-certainty.

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  86. "In order to test your idea, we'd pretty much have to sit someone in an MRI and wait till they started talking to God. Which would be kind of fun, but maybe expensive."

    No. God could tell that person something that no-one else in his civilisation knew or could possibly know - if Jesus said 'it would take a ray of light four and a bit years to reach Alpha Centauri', for example.

    This wouldn't be evidence that God existed per se - it might just mean God came from a flying saucer - but it would be pretty spectacular evidence that something very, very unusual was going on.

    So ... what do we get like that from the Bible: the universe was created in six days, bats are a type of bird, the Sun goes round the Earth, there are only three continents, the winds live in big sheds when they aren't blowing, the smallest seed in existence is the mustard seed.

    Again, it's strong evidence: that the Bible is not divinely inspired.

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  87. I found this excellent summary of the fatal problems of the modal premises in this family of arguments: http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/2010/03/modal-ontological-argument-revisited.html

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  88. >Thus the real question is how does "God" exist and not whether "God" exist.<

    Easy.

    We can conceive of 'a completely atheistic universe, one with no gods or divine involvement of any kind'.

    Therefore, by the same logic, the atheistic universe exists, and the only real question is 'in what sense does it exist'.

    Both can't be true, the universe can't be agnostic, so we have to work out which is true. Using evidence.

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  89. Anonymous.

    "you've shown only that there is a first cause and called it God"

    Then the argument goes on to show that a cause of the universe can't be physical, in time, space, or natural because the universe is those things, and so the cause had to be external to it.

    "People do not find the same things moral or immoral.

    The argument is for the existence of objective morals, just like the existence of the external world. Some people think the capitol of Illinois is Chicago, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not. In a similar way, some (morally underdeveloped) people think murder is OK but it's still wrong, objectively.

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  90. @ Prof. Moran,

    Is there a way to organize the comments so we have the arguments and comments on them. The sea of comments is quite difficult to parse.

    @ Martin,

    Listing the names of some arguments isn't giving the argument. I think Prof. Moran was asking for the actual premises and conclusions.

    @ Plantinga's Modal Argument

    This argument blatantly begs the question. It is valid in the sense that the conclusion follows from the premises. But it asks us to grant the possibility of a being that exists in every possible world with the properties of the J-C God and then uses the B axiom to show that low and behold God exists. But this really is just a trick (illusion, Michael).

    There is an equivocation. Plantinga asks us to consider the "possibility" of such a God. Here he has epistemic possibility in mind. But when he plugs it into the Brouwer axiom, he uses metaphysical possibility to reach the conclusion. But it is obviously unsound.

    To see it differently, he goes from having us imagine God exists to it not being possible that God doesn't exist. That is right. According to Plantinga, it is not metaphysically possible that God doesn't exist because Plantinga defines God as a necessary being, namely, one that exists in all possible worlds. This is absurd. Surely most theists will grant that it is metaphysically possible that God doesn't exist. But according to Plantinga's argument, it is not metaphysically possible that God doesn't exist.

    I take Plantinga's argument to be of the more sophisticated ones (anything that requires S5 modal logic is pretty sophisticated). But it is also sophistical.

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  91. @lee_merril I agree with you that the Babylon prophecy is eerie, and to be perfectly frank, the hairs raised on the back of my neck when I read the Wikipedia page for Babylon in light of what you wrote.

    However, to be fair, you shouldn't just count the prophecies that turned out but the ones that failed as well:

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/proph/long.html

    (Read at least 20 before closing the tab - don't just be put off by things like the proper interpretation of the word "die" in the phrase "thou shalt surely *die*". This is their exhaustive list, so some are going to be better than others.)

    If this prophecy issue really is important to you, you should go through that list and check each one out, cross them off one at a time. I think that would be the intellectually honest thing to do, if you take your faith seriously (and I think, by the fact you bothered to reply, that you do).

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  92. Not to beat a dead horse, but I don't see the point in any of this arguing about theological knowledge from atheists. I know very little to nothing about greek mythology and yet I wouldn't give a second of consideration about the validity of any of those gods. That goes for unicorns and gnomes, too. I don't have to be well versed in anything when it's so completely obvious that it's been proven not to exist and its arguments have been refuted so many times over and over again.
    I personally hate reading christian scriptures. They're so freakin' boring and confusing and have failed to provide any weight on validating its claims.

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  93. There's an idea I had recently.

    Part of the problem is that theologians equivocate all the damn time. Aquinas is the most obvious and worst ("Something necessary must necessarily exist ... and this we call God"), but lots of them do it.

    So maybe we should just take the word "God" off the table; refuse to even use the word.

    What are the arguments the prove the existence of an invisible bodiless omniscience omnipotent magical person?

    How does the Kalam cosmological argument prove the existence of an invisible bodiless omniscience omnipotent magical person?

    How does "prophecy" prove the existence of an invisible bodiless omniscience omnipotent magical person?

    How does the phrase "maximally excellent" prove the existence of an invisible bodiless omniscience omnipotent magical person?

    Just keep copying and pasting that phrase in there. Resist the temptation to shorten it to IBOOMP. That's what atheists don't believe exists. That's what theists insist does too exist.

    Why are they arguing that an invisible bodiless omniscience omnipotent magical person exists when they have no evindence or logic that supports an invisible bodiless omniscience omnipotent magical person?

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  94. Bah.

    Just goes to show the dangers of copying and pasting. Mutations can creep in!

    I meant an "invisible bodiless omniscient omnipotent magical person" in my previous comment.

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  95. arensb,

    I'm extremely leary of random internet sites instead of reliable sources. There is a load of bad information out there. In fact, right off the bat I found some embarrassing responses to the Kalam argument: http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Kalam#Circularity

    Dan Barker gives a response that just confirms what I've suspected for awhile now:

    Atheists are to philosophy as Christians are to biology.

    Extreme ignorance of the most basic principles and ideas, and willful refusal to increase their knowledge.

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  96. @ Martin

    As a graduate student in philosophy, I know plenty of atheist graduate students and professors. There are actually very good statistics on the beliefs of philosophers (we did a survey). There are plenty of atheists so I am not sure why you think the set of philosophers and the set of atheists doesn't over lap.

    Could you address my worry about Plantinga's argument posted above.

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  97. An "accommodationist" now is someone who even found theism or deism plausible?

    I always thought of it as the pragmatical stance of saying to a creationist things like "most Christians, and even the Catholic church, accept evolution, just like you probably accept that diseases can be understood by their natural causes, like germs and genes" (and the same with eventual natural phenomena in "dispute", whenever it occurs), rather than a more all-or-nothing approach, "creationism is wrong, for lots of things, but mainly because there are no gods to begin with".

    I think the first way is probably the more effective way to make people accept most of science, to an extent that it's enough to not be something that worth worrying about that much, most of the time. After all, people with this sort of mind set were the ones who perhaps have made the bulk of scientific knowledge we have now, all over our history.

    As long as they can keep things separated, even though they do this by mean of some logical exception that they allow for their particular beliefs, not trying to ingrain these beliefs in the explanations of natural things, but, in the other hand, making ad hoc accommodations/interpretations to their supernatural beliefs, adjusting it with the facts with verifiable reality, that's just fine. Add the acceptance of laicism, and then the whole thing would be no more important than a few people believing that somehow the steady state theory is correct, or in branes, string theory, or whatever.

    I don't think that there will be any strong argument for the idea of an original super-dude or the closest thing logically possible to an omnipotent mind creating everything, and I think that most atheists, even "accommodationists" or "enablers" would think almost the same. Asking "accommodationists" or "enablers" to defend something like that misses totally the point.

    I think the real point is, to ask what are the most feasible ways hinder or heal the most damaging effects of religion, the most important being probably religiously motivated violence, "scientific fundamentalistm", and laws ruling according to religious principles, like anti-abortion laws.

    I'm not sure about either of them, but what seems logic is that the promotion of the more innocuous religious views is more effective than trying to throw atheism down their throats -- and no violence is implied here, I'm speaking only about the abrupt change in their "realities" that atheism mean, compared to less radical/more moderate interpretations of the same basic "reality".

    And that's what I think is always lacking in this "accommodationism versus non-accommodationism" "debate".

    It seems quite obvious to me that the psychological resistance to someone accept the latter would be much smaller than when asking to abruptly discard "everything" one believes. Even if it's still not "right" from a "ultra-scientific", "pure-logic" point of view. People are not 100% driven by logic, and perhaps that's why non-accommodationists act like this, insisting in a strategy of dubious feasibility to achieve this goal.

    Unless, the goal is not as pragmatic as I thought it would be, just aiming to reduce the harm of religion, but rather to achieve a dream world where everyone follows science to its fullest extent, with every possibility in between just as worthless as being back in medieval times. Sometimes, that's what it seems.

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  98. the argument goes on to show that a cause of the universe can't be physical, in time, space, or natural because the universe is those things, and so the cause had to be external to it.

    It can only demonstrate those things by ontologically committing to particular concepts of "physical," "time," "space" and "natural." Besides the inherent problems with such commitments, which I mentioned in my bit about fine tuning arguments, these particular commitments are unsound because of empirical and theoretical scientific considerations in addition to philosophical critiques of the same notions. Basically, we can only demonstrate the "outsideness" of the first cause by assuming we know where the walls are. But we don't. Sorry.

    The argument is for the existence of objective morals, just like the existence of the external world. Some people think the capitol of Illinois is Chicago, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not. In a similar way, some (morally underdeveloped) people think murder is OK but it's still wrong, objectively.

    But if every human being on earth thought the capital of Illinois was Chicago including all the state legislators and government employees, then Chicago would be the capitol of Illinois. Maybe just a bad example, but if I extend the reasoning to morals, you've proved my point.

    What reason is there to believe that there is such a thing as objective morality?

    If you actually read my posts, you'll note I sign them despite using the anonymous option (out of laziness).

    -Dan L.

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  99. There is a god, and he is a girl!!! This is the best argument in favor of god I've ever seen, but unfortunately it only works for one of them...

    http://www.principiadiscordia.com/book/72.php

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  100. Martin,
    Stop dodging.
    The challenge isn't for atheists to display their philosphical prowess.

    The challenge is for theists to provide an argument for the existence of a supernatural being.

    You provide the definition. You show the evidence. If atheists are so ignorant, show us what we are ignorant of.

    I think I will be waiting for a very long time.

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  101. Martin, can you tell us what's specifically wrong with Barker's critique of Kalam? (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/dan_barker/kalamity.html)

    I haven't read it before -- I'm reading it now, and I'd be interested in hearing why you think it's embarrassing.

    -Dan L.

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  102. This challenge has been up for three days and so far there have only been a few tired arguments for god's existence. Nothing novel.

    I'm a bit surprised that since 1998, the year "Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3rd edition" was published (and the same year I took the course of the same name) there apparently hasn't been a single notable advance in arguments for god's existence.

    At what point can we confidently conclude game over?

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  103. Now that this discussion here has picked up speed, I hope I am forgiven to re-post something I wrote deep in the bowels of one of the threads over at WEIT.

    It seems important to me to be clear about what is supposed to be proven, as many apologists and also some fellow atheists frequently conflate different parts of the problem. In fact I think there are several different hurdles an apologist has to leap over, and they may need different types of reasoning or evidence:

    1. Demonstrate a higher intelligence working in the universe.

    2. Explain why it must be divine, instead of a sufficiently advanced alien species or similar. (Although to be honest, I feel this could be relaxed, as an alien intelligence sufficiently advanced to create the universe or answer our prayers would for all practical purposes be indistinguishable from being gods.)

    3. Explain, now that we can grant the existence of some divine being(s) in the universe, from where exactly you get the knowledge that it is/they are identical to God as worshiped by your sect, and not as worshiped by another. And how you know its/their will.

    4. Make a case for this higher intelligence being worthy of worship as opposed to contempt. If it turns out that it throws people into a lake of fire for all eternity for having had consensual extramarital sex, for example, it may well be a god, but not worthy of our devotion.

    Most apologists are genuinely convinced that they have cleared hurdle #1, but then smugly pretend they have also cleared #2-#4. If an apologist is aware of that problem and only wants to prove a mysterious higher intelligence, oh well. But if they say fine-tuning, thus Jesus, they should be called out on it.

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  104. Dave,

    If someone is a philosopher and an atheist, then they might tend to be more well-versed, although I've been absolutely shocked at some of the poor performance atheist debaters have shown against theists. But for the most part I speak of laymen. In response to modern sophisticated theist arguments, I see mainly accusations of sophistry, wordplay, etc and a clear overconfidence from their days of fighting ignorant creationists, instead of actually debating the premises of the arguments.

    As for Plantinga, I agree that the major problem with it is that it begs the question (maybe; it's controversial whether it does or not). But one response is that natural theology is a cumulative case; that kalam and other arguments lend enough weight to get ontological arguments off the ground.

    Another response is that Maydole has an interesting new argument that does not assume that a perfect being would be necessary nor that existence is a perfection.

    It will take me quite some time to even understand his basic argument, much less unpack it.

    These people ain't no ignorant fundies.

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  105. As for the most relevant apologetics that have been thrown into the ring so far (seriously, the biblical prophecies are just too silly considering how many of them remain unfulfilled),

    1. Kalam cosmological argument
    Read here.

    2. Argument from contingency
    Special pleading, plus clears only hurdle #1: even if it existed, a first cause or whatever may not deserve the identifier "god".

    3. Plantinga's modal ontological argument
    Like all these semantic games, it can be shot down by proving the exact opposite: among all possible worlds, there must be one where god does not exist, thus he is not greatest, jadda jadda jadda. Honestly, trying to define things into existence has never worked and all of it is easily shown as absurd by substituting the object of the proof.

    4. Maydole's modal perfection ontological argument
    Never heard of that, at least under that name, so who knows? Maybe it is the killer. But see immediately above.

    5. Fine-tuning arguments
    You got to be kidding. Clear case of confusing cause and effect. May I also take the liberty to introduce you to the anthropic principle? And then, if the universe is fine-tuned for anything, then it must be dark matter, or hydrogen molecules. Pity that they seem to be unable to build temples.

    6. Argument from reason
    Please elaborate. If it is what I think it is, I would simply argue that any universe that is stable and lawful enough to allow intelligent life to evolve must necessarily be lawful enough to be understood by reason. Another case for the anthropic principle, you could say. It might even be possible that a universe without rules, that could not be understood, cannot exist at all, but then, I am not a physicist.

    7. Evolutionary argument against naturalism
    This is so cryptic that I cannot even guess what it is supposed to mean. I would not know how a case against naturalism could possibly be made with evolution as a starting point(?). Care to elaborate?

    8. Moral arguments
    Again very cryptic. But this kind of apologetics got its mercy killing with Euthyphro, and all I have ever seen trying to refute Euthyphro were ignoring the actual problem, trying to play word games to work around it.

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  106. Dan L,

    Basically, we can only demonstrate the "outsideness" of the first cause by assuming we know where the walls are.

    I don't understand what you are trying to say. The point of the argument is that the Big Bang needs a cause. Yay or nay? If so, then the cause can't consist of things in the universe. Yay or nay?

    Maybe just a bad example, but if I extend the reasoning to morals, you've proved my point.

    Definitely a bad example on my part. If everyone on earth thought that Hawaii did not exist, Hawaii would still exist. I.e., the external world is objective, not subjective.

    What reason is there to believe that there is such a thing as objective morality?

    There may not be; this is certainly a live debate in philosophy. But a good case can be made for them as well. Much of the time by just appealing to intuition, unfortunately. Does the external world seem real as opposed to a computer simulation? Could be wrong, but I'd say yes. Is it wrong to rape a child and then cut her arms off even if everyone thought it was right? Many people would answer yes.

    It's a philosophical argument, and like most things in philosophy it's going to be controversial.

    My only contention is that controversial <> refuted.

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  107. It's perhaps worth noting that according to the PhilPapers survey of professional philosophers, atheism is by far the majority position (>72% "accept or lean toward atheism" of target faculty in all areas of study).

    This proportion is, unsurprisingly, reversed if one considers only philosophy of religion, with >72% "accept or lean toward theism".

    Sampling other areas of study suggests that the ~70% atheist proportion is very much the norm, with relatively few outliers; the proportion of atheists seems to be slightly (possibly not significantly) higher in the field of meta-ethics, and very substantially higher in the fields of philosophy of mind (>80%) and philosophy of cognitive science (>90%).

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  108. Martin:

    Can you understand why many people are frustrated here? Larry's challenge was to state the sophisticated argument for the existence of god that those ignorant atheists are not addressing. You have mentioned several but not stated any of them. And you have repeated claims that the atheists are ignorant of those arguments, which only acts to increase the frustration. I don't know that much about philosophy. I would like to hear the sophisticated arguments. Please provide at least one. ("Sophisticated" doesn't mean "I don't understand it; if you yourself can't understand the argument -- as you imply with Maydole's -- that of itself doesn't make that argument sophisticated.

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  109. Larry

    Whether God or Gods now exist is of no consequence. What is mandatory is that one or more supernatural entities must have once existed. The notion that life could have spontaneously generated and then evolved even once is transparently absurd. Since the Darwinian atheist inspired model is a dismal failure, there is only one possible alternative, a guided origin or origins. That is my position, one I share with Leo Berg, Pierre Grasse, Robert Broom and other critics of the Darwinian fairy tale. If life could be spontaneously produced it would have been demonstrated in the laboratory long ago.

    Furthermore, there is no evidence that evolution is even any longer in progress. It is my opinion that the whole thing was planned from beginning to end and the end may be any time now.

    "A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable."
    John A. Davison

    jadavison.wordpress.com

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  110. Dan L,

    Martin, can you tell us what's specifically wrong with Barker's critique of Kalam? (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/dan_barker/kalamity.html)

    He says that the kalam argument divides the world into things that begin to exist, and things that don't, and then claims that we have no experience of things that do not begin to exist and so the only thing that theists have in that set is God.

    !!!!!!

    The literature on the kalam argument gives examples of things that do not begin to exist: numbers, logical truths, mathematical truths, etc.

    I mean, this is elementary philosophy here. The principle of sufficient reason, yes? Hell, my 1963 book on metaphysics by Richard Taylor, an introductory guide aimed at the layman for the love of god, goes quite in depth into the PSR.

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  111. Andrew G,

    This proportion is, unsurprisingly, reversed if one considers only philosophy of religion, with >72% "accept or lean toward theism".

    Worth noting. I think something like 99% of philosophers were atheists during the first half of the 20th Century. That number has dropped considerably in the wake of a revolution in theistic thought.

    And your note is worth noting as well. "Philosophy" is a broad term, so it's more interesting to see where the consensus lies within the subfields. As it happens with phil of religion, theism

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  112. Worth noting. I think something like 99% of philosophers were atheists during the first half of the 20th Century.

    Why do you think that? (personal impressions don't count)

    To what extent are you qualifying your estimate geographically? The philpapers survey site details the demographics; note that over 50% of their target faculty respondents are from the USA.

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  113. Let's start with two relatively uncontroversial premises:

    (1) The universe exists.

    I don't think anyone seriously doubts that.

    (2) A weak form of the principle of sufficient reason obtains (say, everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its nature, or in something external to itself).

    This is essentially just a fancy way of saying that "nothing" -- a metaphysical nothing, not the physicists' nothing, which is really a whole lot of something --has no causative or explanatory power (how can it?). Why? Well, the only alternative to a thing having some explanation for its existence is for it to have no cause or explanation for its existence, which is to say its existence is caused or explained by nothing. (Please not this is not limited to efficient causes, but takes explanations and the like into consideration, so things like virtual particles are not counterexamples.)

    Now let's take a more controversial premise:

    (3) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is god.

    By "the universe" I mean all matter, energy, space and time. I also use the term to include a multiverse. I just mean every natural 'thing' that exists. By god I mean a personal being who is not part of the universe with the power to explain the universe. (This is all quick and brief and non-rigorous, but the OP did request concision.)

    Now (3) is logically equivalent to a premise many atheists seem willing to accept, viz. (3') If god does not exist, the universe has no explanation for its existence. That is, the universe just is, it's a brute fact, we just start there, etc. This is perfectly reasonable, it seems to me, for if we posit no gods, and no space, no time, no energy and no matter (which implies no thing that's contingent upon the existence of space, time, matter and energy), then we don't seem to be left with anything that could count as an explanation -- that is, we're left with nothing (and again, not the physicists' nothing).

    Now I take it you can see that (3) supposes that the universe can't explain itself. This seems obvious: you can't explain X with reference to X and nothing but X. Most people who say that the universe explains itself don't really mean that; rather, they mean that there is no explanation for the universe, or that the universe is a brute fact, etc.

    So, let's put these plausible premises together in a different order to clarify the logic of the argument:

    (1) Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in a cause external to itself (a weak version of the PSR).

    (2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is god.

    (3) The universe exists.

    (4) God exists.

    Now this argument doesn't lead to the trinitarian god of orthodox Christianity, but it does lead to a personal god who explains the existence of the universe, and that's a long way from atheism.

    Now I don't take this to be a proof; there are no strict proofs in philosophy. It's a valid argument with three premises, one of which is almost undeniable (premise (3) in the final version), another of which is very plausible (premise (1) in the final version), and the last of which is minimally more plausible than its denial (premise (2) in the final version). Thus, while it's not a proof, it is a good argument, a strong argument, and the theist violates no epistemic duty in claiming to believe that god exists on its basis.

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  114. The literature on the kalam argument gives examples of things that do not begin to exist: numbers, logical truths, mathematical truths, etc.

    It's quite a tenable philosophical position to assert that abstract objects don't exist. In fact, I would think it would be dangerous for the Kalam to assert that abstract objects --mathematical truths -- exist. If there are an actual infinity of mathematical truths then Kalam fails, because it depends on the impossibility of actual infinities.

    It's also quite tenable to say that mathematical truths including the existence of numbers) do begin to exist when the axioms upon which they depend are first assumed, or even only when the result, or truth, itself is apprehended.

    Ultimately, whether mathematical truths exist is a function of what we mean by "existence." As I am skeptic/naturalist/materialist and you evidently are not, I would assume we mean very different things. And whether we discover pre-existing truths or create them as we go is an unanswered question in philosophy of mathematics.

    I mean, this is elementary philosophy here. The principle of sufficient reason, yes?

    I'm not entirely sure why you think the principle of sufficient reason is relevant here. I think I have an idea, but I don't want to put words in your mouth. Please try to be less glib, more specific about what you're objecting to. I'm trying to be open-minded, but the argument isn't prima facie convincing to me, so you need to help me a little if I'm going to see what you find convincing about it.

    -Dan L.

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  115. Martin:
    The point of the argument is that the Big Bang needs a cause. Yay or nay? If so, then the cause can't consist of things in the universe. Yay or nay?

    As far as I understand, and again, I am not a physicist, it is more like this:

    We cannot possibly infer anything that was before the big bang. That is it. "Before the big bang" could be a meaningless phrase, or before it could have been another universe that generated this one. We will never know.

    The relevant counter to any first cause argument is simply that we know that there are things that happen even though they are uncaused: radioactive decay of an individual atom, random energy fluctuations in the vacuum, etc. Because is well possible that the big bang similarly did not need a cause, it is not necessary to invoke god as a cause. QNED, so to say.

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  116. Let's start with two relatively uncontroversial premises:

    (1) The universe exists.

    I don't think anyone seriously doubts that.

    (2) A weak form of the principle of sufficient reason obtains (say, everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its nature, or in something external to itself).

    This is essentially just a fancy way of saying that "nothing" -- a metaphysical nothing, not the physicists' nothing, which is really a whole lot of something --has no causative or explanatory power (how can it?). Why? Well, the only alternative to a thing having some explanation for its existence is for it to have no cause or explanation for its existence, which is to say its existence is caused or explained by nothing. (Please not this is not limited to efficient causes, but takes explanations and the like into consideration, so things like virtual particles are not counterexamples.)

    Now let's take a more controversial premise:

    (3) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is god.

    By "the universe" I mean all matter, energy, space and time. I also use the term to include a multiverse. I just mean every natural 'thing' that exists. By god I mean a personal being who is not part of the universe with the power to explain the universe. (This is all quick and brief and non-rigorous, but the OP did request concision.)

    Now (3) is logically equivalent to a premise many atheists seem willing to accept, viz. (3') If god does not exist, the universe has no explanation for its existence. That is, the universe just is, it's a brute fact, we just start there, etc. This is perfectly reasonable, it seems to me, for if we posit no gods, and no space, no time, no energy and no matter (which implies no thing that's contingent upon the existence of space, time, matter and energy), then we don't seem to be left with anything that could count as an explanation -- that is, we're left with nothing (and again, not the physicists' nothing).

    Now I take it you can see that (3) supposes that the universe can't explain itself. This seems obvious: you can't explain X with reference to X and nothing but X. Most people who say that the universe explains itself don't really mean that; rather, they mean that there is no explanation for the universe, or that the universe is a brute fact, etc.

    So, let's put these plausible premises together in a different order to clarify the logic of the argument:

    (1) Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in a cause external to itself (a weak version of the PSR).

    (2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is god.

    (3) The universe exists.

    (4) God exists.

    Now this argument doesn't lead to the trinitarian god of orthodox Christianity, but it does lead to a personal god who explains the existence of the universe, and that's a long way from atheism.

    Now I don't take this to be a proof; there are no strict proofs in philosophy. It's a valid argument with three premises, one of which is almost undeniable (premise (3) in the final version), another of which is very plausible (premise (1) in the final version), and the last of which is minimally more plausible than its denial (premise (2) in the final version). Thus, while it's not a proof, it is a good argument, a strong argument, and the theist violates no epistemic duty in claiming to believe that god exists on its basis.

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  117. @ Martin

    Defend that numbers, mathematical truths, and logical truths are things.

    You say the argument is embarrassing and then you come back with this weak sauce response. You should apologize for calling the argument embarrassing. Where do apologists get off on being so rude?

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  118. @ Martin,

    Thanks for responding to me directly. You say you agree that Plantinga's argument begs the question. Since we agree that it is unsound, let's cross that off the list.

    You mention a cumulative case argument. Here is the rub, throwing a bunch of arguments around is not a cumulative case. If the arguments aren't good individually, then standing on a pile of their corpses isn't going to get you to heaven. That is not how evidence accumulates.

    So I think we need to approach the arguments one at a time. You mention Kalam and Maydole. By saying in effect "there are really complex arguments by smart people" but not telling us what they are, you are falling prey to the challenge. I know you don't want that. So just cut and paste from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or something (there is a great post on ontological arguments). Give us the arguments. Post them here. When being called out for handwaving, don't wave your hands.

    I have met some very smart theists and very smart atheists. We don't need to call names or make sociological generalizations about subsets of the academy that get us into trouble and distract from the main point. Just so we are clear, the main point is the arguments for the existence of God.

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  119. The point of the argument is that the Big Bang needs a cause...If so, then the cause can't consist of things in the universe

    Did you read in Barker's paper about the problem with insisting that "the universe" must have a cause? There are other problems here. In your statement above, you apparently identify the Big Bang with the universe, or commit to some ontology in which the Big Bang requiring a cause implies that the universe requires a cause. I don't see that either prima facie obvious. Finally, what do you mean by "cause"? Are we merely relying on your causal intuition? Empirical evidence suggests that the causal intuition of homo sapiens sapiens is not very reliable. A real conversation about causality means grappling with quantum mechanics and relativity. Do you really want to start down that road?

    What reason is there to believe that there is such a thing as objective morality?

    There may not be [such a thing as objective morality]; this is certainly a live debate in philosophy. But a good case can be made for them as well.

    Well, then the debate is whether or not there is objective morality. Until it's established, it can't constitute a very good argument for the existence of God, can it?

    I'd request that you read the whole Barker paper with an open mind and try to address the questions for theists in the conclusion.

    -Dan L.

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  120. Apologetics is a field of telling believers that their belief is justified through these convoluted arguments. Believers who want to believe will accept the convoluted arguments. They will not be swayed by the objections since the objections are likely to be convoluted as well, and they don't want to believe the convoluted objection.

    Then the apologist will call other atheists who don't bring up their argument philosophically retarded, and assuming that the atheist cannot refute their argument. The believer looks on at the atheists who never seem to refute the arguments, or make complicated refutations that are probably invalid.

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  121. > Heleen: Consult Wikipedia and you'll see that Alexander the Great did not try to rebuilt Babylon: it was a functioning city until after his time.

    Yes, it was functioning, and it was at that time substantially damaged. Alex’s purpose being to restore it.

    > Brownian: Two separate, and accurate prophesies? And those were just from the first two hits on Google for "horoscope"! How unlikely is that?

    But I insist on “falsifiable at any time,” then I will put these prophecies up on the same shelf.

    > Nadiah: I agree with you that the Babylon prophecy is eerie, and to be perfectly frank, the hairs raised on the back of my neck when I read the Wikipedia page for Babylon in light of what you wrote.

    I’m hoping more people try, knowing what this might be making clear.

    > However, to be fair, you shouldn't just count the prophecies that turned out but the ones that failed as well …

    > Jud: So either Jesus was not the Messiah, or this prophecy has conclusively been proved wrong. Which is your preferred answer?

    > Nameless Cynic: If "fulfilled" prophesy proves that God exists, what does failed prophesy mean? How many more would you like?

    But I can make my case even if these other prophecies are wrong! as long as people try and rebuild or reinhabit Babylon, and continue to fail, then this would more and more indicate an agent at work. Who lives 2000 years or more.

    But I have discussed such matters as well, as you might guess, and I’ve gone through many lists like this. If you wish, come over to theologyweb.com and present the best failures (so to speak) in the Apologetics sub-forum. I’m (perhaps not surprisingly) lee_merrill over there.

    > Andrew G: What about Tyre? (Ezekiel 26:7-14)

    For starters, there appears to be no substantial Phoenician layer beneath Roman layer, and there is actually an account that part of the island sank into the sea. Where we do see Phoenician pillars and ruins of a harbor. I subscribe to one book’s view that ancient Tyre sank in a subsidence similar to the one that took out a nearby Herodian harbor.

    Anyhoo…

    Blessings,
    Lee

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  122. > Heleen: Consult Wikipedia and you'll see that Alexander the Great did not try to rebuilt Babylon: it was a functioning city until after his time.

    Yes, it was functioning, and it was at that time substantially damaged. Alex’s purpose being to restore it.

    > Brownian: Two separate, and accurate prophesies? And those were just from the first two hits on Google for "horoscope"! How unlikely is that?

    But I insist on “falsifiable at any time,” then I will put these prophecies up on the same shelf.

    > Nadiah: I agree with you that the Babylon prophecy is eerie, and to be perfectly frank, the hairs raised on the back of my neck when I read the Wikipedia page for Babylon in light of what you wrote.

    I’m hoping more people try, knowing what this might be making clear.

    ... continued

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  123. > Heleen: … to be fair, you shouldn't just count the prophecies that turned out but the ones that failed as well …

    > Jud: So either Jesus was not the Messiah, or this prophecy has conclusively been proved wrong. Which is your preferred answer?

    > Nameless Cynic: If "fulfilled" prophesy proves that God exists, what does failed prophesy mean? How many more would you like?

    But I can make my case even if these other prophecies are wrong! as long as people try and rebuild or reinhabit Babylon, and continue to fail, then this would more and more indicate an agent at work. Who lives 2000 years or more.

    But I have discussed such matters as well, as you might guess, and I’ve gone through many lists like this. If you wish, come over to theologyweb.com and present the best failures (so to speak) in the Apologetics sub-forum. I’m (perhaps not surprisingly) lee_merrill over there.

    > Andrew G: What about Tyre? (Ezekiel 26:7-14)

    For starters, there appears to be no substantial Phoenician layer beneath Roman layer, and there is actually an account that part of the island sank into the sea. Where we do see Phoenician pillars and ruins of a harbor. I subscribe to one book’s view that ancient Tyre sank in a subsidence similar to the one that took out a nearby Herodian harbor.

    Anyhoo…

    Blessings,
    Lee

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  124. Dan L,

    OK then, to simplify the many threads of discussion, just focus on Kalam for now:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
    2. The universe began to exist
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

    In support of premise #1 is appeal to common sense. Why don't all kinds of things just pop into existence uncaused out of nothing? Why do universes get to be magic but nothing else? Why aren't universes popping into existence all over the place?

    Objections: virtual particles. If the many-worlds interpretation of QM is true, then virtual particles are determinate just like everything else. Also, virtual particles do not come out of nothing but out of a vaccuum filled with energy.

    In support of premise #2 are the various paradoxes associated with an infinite past: appeals to Hilbert's hotel, etc.

    Even if that argument fails, there is still the appeal to cosmological models, the standard one of which has a distinct singularity at the beginning of the universe.

    Then there is appeal to entropy; most models show that some entropy carries over into cyclic universes, and thus if the past were infinite then the universe/multiverse would have died a heat death an infinite amount of time ago.

    And finally, there is appeal to the Borde/Vilinken paper from 2003 which shows that the past cannot be infinite: http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v90/i15/e151301

    Hence, the universe had a cause.

    The cause cannot be of space, time, matter, or the laws of nature, since they did not exist yet.

    Hence, the cause must have been spaceless, timeless, non-physical, and "supranatural."

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  125. They don't want to address whether or not Santa Claus exists, they only want to discuss whether he wears red or green socks. It's fanfic.

    ASK them if it takes faith to disbelieve in the Tooth Fairy or how much they know about a religion that they don't subscribe to, and they just ignore it. Yet it's their own argument turned back to them.

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  126. @Alec:

    You're simply begging the question by assuming that it is even possible for there to be something that is not part of the universe, and that the thing is God. It's Kalam with "explanation" substituted for "cause."

    -Dan L.

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  127. To cover the two arguments that Alex missed earlier:

    Evolutionary argument against naturalism

    Put simply, if evolution is true and there's no god, then we can't trust our minds to be reliable.

    First of all, most atheists don't claim that our minds are completely reliable, in fact the whole point of the scientific method is that we need to be careful about this sort of thing. But, OK the argument claims that without a god our minds would be far less reliable than they are, so let's look at that. Four cases are considered, but I'll only look at one - "Beliefs are causally efficacious with respect to behaviour and also adaptive, but they may still be false".

    If we had somehow developed mental facilities that led us to regularly make the right choice for the wrong reasons, then yes that would be selected for by evolution but how exactly would that work? If the beliefs were being generated without any connection to the real world then any usefulness would be purely coincidental. It's not hard to see how acting on correct information is generally more useful than acting on incorrect information, and hence mental facilities that actually worked would be selected for.

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  128. @Lee_Merril

    There are 2 major issues with your most recent post.

    The first is that you have neatly ignored the absolutely lethal counterarguments to your position that Heleen, Jud, and Nameless Cynic put forth. Namely that the misses of biblical prophecy outnumber the hit. You carefully ignore that problem by pinning your faith on Babylon still being uninhabited. Does that mean that if Babylon is inhabited once more you will renounce your faith? Interstingly you also do not address Nadiah's second paragraph where she attacks the validity of your position. Why is that?

    The second is the issue brought up before. You have not yet proved God to any degree. You have demonstrated that a book said something about the future and that thing is true. That's nice but says nothing of God's existence. Even if you say that the Bible is the word of god that proves nothing, you are still not proving God. This is a request for a proof of God, you must do that prior to telling us what he says or does.

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  129. BS. Kalam fails because a natural thing can have a natural cause, which Kalam assumes it can't. It is thus assuming its conclusion, a logical fallacy known as begging the question. I didn't fall for this kind of thinking when I was 12 and there's no reason to fall for it now.

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  130. "You're simply begging the question by assuming that it is even possible for there to be something that is not part of the universe, and that the thing is God. It's Kalam with "explanation" substituted for "cause.""

    Was that directed at me?

    My argument *clearly* did not beg the question. I merely defined what meant by the term 'god'; I didn't assume that god exists.

    Second, the argument differs quite a bit from the Kalam cosmological argument. Sure, they're both cosmological arguments, but it's so obviously not the case that the only difference is that one uses the term 'cause' while the other uses the term 'explanation' (though that is in itself a pretty big difference, if you understand the distinction between the two).

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  131. Well, OK, let's bring up Charles Hartshorne's formulation of the modal argument.

    This is the way I would summarize (a very small part of) Hartshorne's argument.

    God's existence is logically necessary. In other words, if you are thinking of a being whose existence is contingent, then you are not thinking of God.

    If this concept is taken seriously, then by definition all "evidence" for or against God is irrelevant. God's existence, being logically necessary, is compatible with literally any contingent state of affairs. If the sky is blue, or orange, or yellow; if people are smart, or stupid, or moral, or immoral; if the Bible is well written or badly written; if all religions are forces for good or evil -- all of that is utterly irrelevant to the existence of God.

    The most common atheist arguments (PZ Myers, f'r instance, loves this one) begin with an insistence that the theist provide "evidence" for God. Myers has never once recognized that the concept of God, properly understood, makes any evidence of any sort utterly irrelevant.

    Hartshorne claims that there are only two possibilities. (1) A self-consistent concept of this necessarily existent God can be given, such that God exists and is logically necessary; (2) the concept of God is inherently self-contradictory, and as such God does not exist.

    The challenge for the theist thus becomes to provide a full explication of the concept of God that is without self-contradiction, and hence to prove that God necessarily exists. The challenge for the atheist is to show that such is impossible, that the concept is self-contradictory and hence that God cannot exist.

    The claim (by Anonymous, in comments" that "We can conceive of 'a completely atheistic universe, one with no gods or divine involvement of any kind'" begs the question entirely. If God is logically necessary, then any conception of a universe that lacks a god will be self-contradictory at some point -- although the self-contradiction may not be obvious!

    When can we declare victory and go home? When we can provide a proof that the concept of God is self-contradictory. Hartshorne does a pretty thorough job of trying to lay out a self-consistent concept of God. I'd love to see the high-profile atheists working through the Hartshorne corpus. I'm expecting to see that serious engagement about the time that pigs fly.

    Of course, it's not at all clear what is the relationship of Hartshorne's concept of God to the "God" of the Christian (or Jewish, or Islamic, or ...) faith. Hartshorne explicitly rejects the majority of Christian tenets, including omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, unchangingness ... as well as rejecting the claim that the Bible is revelatory in a way that other books are not.

    These days I call myself an "almost atheist," not because I think Hartshorne has been refuted (he's hardly even been engaged, as far as I can tell), but because Hartshorne's own position would be called atheistic by probably 99% of practicing Christians (and Jews, Muslims, ...) anyway. In my view, if Hartshorne were to be declared correct and everybody were to come to agree with his philosophy, it would be a lot more upsetting for 99% of theists than for 99% of atheists.

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  132. Well, OK, let's bring up Charles Hartshorne's formulation of the modal argument.

    This is the way I would summarize (a very small part of) Hartshorne's argument.

    God's existence is logically necessary. In other words, if you are thinking of a being whose existence is contingent, then you are not thinking of God.

    If this concept is taken seriously, then by definition all "evidence" for or against God is irrelevant. God's existence, being logically necessary, is compatible with literally any contingent state of affairs. If the sky is blue, or orange, or yellow; if people are smart, or stupid, or moral, or immoral; if the Bible is well written or badly written; if all religions are forces for good or evil -- all of that is utterly irrelevant to the existence of God.

    The most common atheist arguments (PZ Myers, f'r instance, loves this one) begin with an insistence that the theist provide "evidence" for God. Myers has never once recognized that the concept of God, properly understood, makes any evidence of any sort utterly irrelevant.

    Hartshorne claims that there are only two possibilities. (1) A self-consistent concept of this necessarily existent God can be given, such that God exists and is logically necessary; (2) the concept of God is inherently self-contradictory, and as such God does not exist.

    The challenge for the theist thus becomes to provide a full explication of the concept of God that is without self-contradiction, and hence to prove that God necessarily exists. The challenge for the atheist is to show that such is impossible, that the concept is self-contradictory and hence that God cannot exist.

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  133. The claim (by Anonymous, in comments" that "We can conceive of 'a completely atheistic universe, one with no gods or divine involvement of any kind'" begs the question entirely. If God is logically necessary, then any conception of a universe that lacks a god will be self-contradictory at some point -- although the self-contradiction may not be obvious!

    When can we declare victory and go home? When we can provide a proof that the concept of God is self-contradictory. Hartshorne does a pretty thorough job of trying to lay out a self-consistent concept of God. I'd love to see the high-profile atheists working through the Hartshorne corpus. I'm expecting to see that serious engagement about the time that pigs fly.

    Of course, it's not at all clear what is the relationship of Hartshorne's concept of God to the "God" of the Christian (or Jewish, or Islamic, or ...) faith. Hartshorne explicitly rejects the majority of Christian tenets, including omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, unchangingness ... as well as rejecting the claim that the Bible is revelatory in a way that other books are not.

    These days I call myself an "almost atheist," not because I think Hartshorne has been refuted (he's hardly even been engaged, as far as I can tell), but because Hartshorne's own position would be called atheistic by probably 99% of practicing Christians (and Jews, Muslims, ...) anyway. In my view, if Hartshorne were to be declared correct and everybody were to come to agree with his philosophy, it would be a lot more upsetting for 99% of theists than for 99% of atheists.

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  134. Yes! My wish is granted:

    "But Iraqi leaders and UN officials … are working assiduously to restore Babylon, home to the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They want to turn it into a cultural center and possibly even an Iraqi theme park."

    "… Emad Lafta al-Bayati, Hilla's mayor, has big plans for Babylon. 'I want restaurants, gift shops, long parking lots,' he said. God willing, he added, maybe even a Holiday Inn."

    Here we go.

    > Omnicrom: you have neatly ignored the absolutely lethal counterarguments to your position that Heleen, Jud, and Nameless Cynic put forth.

    But see my post prior to this one.

    > Does that mean that if Babylon is inhabited once more you will renounce your faith?

    Yes, I’ll commit to that. If more and more attempts to restore Bablyon continue to fail, will you become a believer? Maybe Antony Flew style?

    > You have demonstrated that a book said something about the future and that thing is true. That's nice but says nothing of God's existence.

    I’ve said more, that we may test this again and again, that this is in our power to falsify. Or so it would seem. Everyone complains about ID, that it is not falsifiable. I now may grant you your wish.

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  135. I mean, this is elementary philosophy here. The principle of sufficient reason, yes? Hell, my 1963 book on metaphysics by Richard Taylor, an introductory guide aimed at the layman for the love of god, goes quite in depth into the PSR.

    Thanks maybe you can give sufficient reason for a god instead of ad hominem attacks against the universe. The universe is stupid because it has no beginning therefore god exists doesn't quite cut it. You have to have evidence for a god not evidence against the universe.

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  136. "Kalam fails because a natural thing can have a natural cause, which Kalam assumes it can't."

    Huh? The Kalam assumes no such thing. It is an argument that leads to the conclusion that the universe has a cause, and the term 'universe' comprises every natural thing. Now if you agree that a thing cannot explain itself, then you agree that whatever explains the universe, it isn't a natural thing. The Kalam does, in the conceptual analysis of the notion of a 'cause of the universe' does conclude that the cause can't be natural, but not for the reason you suggest.

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  137. "I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God."

    That's the wrong question from square one. God's existence can neither be proven nor disproven either empirically or logically. Both atheism and theism are meaningless (in the Popperian sense) non falsifiable claims.

    The real question is whether or not Existence has an inherent purpose and a reason for existing.

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  138. "Many kinds of theology have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional arguments for God with robust methods of defending religious viewpoints."

    This is where Shook reveals that he knows he's blowing smoke. An "argument for God" does what it says on the tin, but "methods of defending religious viewpoints" could mean bloody anything. Talk about weasel language! No member in good faith of an organization devoted to rigor could write that without cringing.

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  139. @Me, a few posts up

    Oh dear, I appear to have ballsed up the html tags, anyway here are links to explanations of those missing arguments:

    Maydole's modal perfection ontological argument - http://rfforum.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=3458545

    Evolutionary argument against naturalism - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism

    And the point I was making about Maydole's argument before it got eaten by my inept html was that it argues for the existence of the Greatest Thing (in a needlessly obscurantic way - once you've defined greatness you can pretty much say that there exists something, or some set of equally great things, that is greater than everything else), but makes no attempt to prove that this is the invisible bodiless omniscient omnipotent magical person.

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  140. Thanks Andrew. Now that you wrote it out, I remember having read about it before, only to forget it because it is so obviously stupid. Of course having a reliable understanding of the world is going to be selected for; everything else would be downright astonishing, and would need a good explanation. And we can give it, for most if not all of our cognitive biases, with there being a trade-off between making the best decision on the one side and being paralyzed by doubt all the time on the other.

    Interesting by the way to place some apologetics next to each other:

    "Our minds are just so restricted and unreliable that we can never understand omnipotence, or the necessity of evil, the way god does in his wisdom."

    "Our mind are so marvelously great and reliable that they must be god-given."

    Everything goes as long as we arrive at the conclusion that go exists, no?

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  141. I'm a Spinozist and I suppose an accomodationist (what an awful term). I can't fit it all into 100 words so here's a teaser:

    What are the attributes of God? 1. He is omnipotent. 2. He is self-existent. 3. He is immutable. 4. He is omniscient. 5. He is alive. Romans 1:20 says that the eternal power and divine nature are plainly apparent in the cosmos. If we look in the cosmos and plainly see an entity with these five attributes then I think you will have to admit that I have proven that God exists.

    1. Omnipotence. Do we see a plainly omnipotent force in the cosmos? Yes. The laws of physics are plainly omnipotent. No one has ever demonstrated that any power exists outside of the laws of physics. ALL power means all. No other power is possible. God cannot be supernatural or his power would not be plainly apparent. God must be completely natural. As Paul says, “In him we live move and have our being”.

    The other 4 are here:
    http://wayofuncertainty.com/philosophy-not-religion/

    http://wayofuncertainty.com/2010/09/what-use-is-god/

    http://wayofuncertainty.com/2010/09/dr-hawking-and-god/

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  142. My argument *clearly* did not beg the question. I merely defined what meant by the term 'god'; I didn't assume that god exists.

    No, but you assumed that there IS a god (i.e. an explanation for the universe) that it's God (like you say, a personal god). I can think of other possible reasons other than "nothing" that might constitute explanations for the universe. You're also assuming that there is a sort of nothing other than vacuum -- or else you equivocate over what you mean by "something" in "a whole lot of something."

    Second, the argument differs quite a bit from the Kalam cosmological argument. Sure, they're both cosmological arguments, but it's so obviously not the case that the only difference is that one uses the term 'cause' while the other uses the term 'explanation'...

    The only difference besides the (inconsistent) recourse to explanations rather than causes that I can see is that you beg a slightly different question to ensure that your god is a personal one. This has the effect of strengthening the claim and weakening the argument.

    I'm still not very sure on what you mean either by "cause" or "explanation." Can you define these explicitly?

    -Dan L.

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  143. "No, but you assumed that there IS a god (i.e. an explanation for the universe) that it's God (like you say, a personal god)."

    I "assumed" no such thing. The only premise that mentions god is premise (2), which is, "If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is god." I then went on to say what I meant by the term 'god.' Come on now, surely you can see that this in no way "assumes there is a god."

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  144. That last one should have started, "...you assumed if there is a god." Sorry about that.

    -Dan L.

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  145. "That last one should have started, "...you assumed if there is a god." Sorry about that."

    No problem.

    My use of the term 'personal' may not have been clear. It's sometimes used to mean something like, "a being who cares about his creation." That's not what I meant. All I meant by the adjective 'personal' is that god is a person, not an abstract idea, an object, etc.

    Now this does not at all beg the question. Every argument uses terms that must be defined. If you think there's a problem with the term 'god' as I've defined it, tell me what the problem is. If there's no problem with it, then you must show that one of the premises of my argument is more plausibly false than true (since the logic of the argument is undeniably valid).

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  146. Eric, (3) is not just controversial, it's false. I can think of things other than a personal (in your sense) god that might constitute a cause for the universe. You make a weak appeal to the contrapositive, but just because some atheists might assent to it doesn't make it true. It's possible that something other than a personal god caused the universe. It's not a tenable premise.

    Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear, as I said before, what you mean by either "cause" or "explanation." Or for that matter "exists." The table beside me "exists" in a different sense from how the software I'm running on this laptop "exists," and both seem necessarily different from the kind of "exists" that pertains to the universe. Basically, you seem to be making a few fishy implicit ontological commitments which makes me leery of accepting even "the universe exists" -- I'm not sure what you mean by that! I can burn this table and it no longer exists, but I can annihilate every particle in the universe with an appropriate antiparticle and there will still be a universe -- albeit in a different form.

    Basically, I would like to be clearer on how you're using "exist," "cause," and "explanation." That would need to be addressed before we can talk about possible causes for the universe (that might or might not be god).

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  147. "Eric, (3) is not just controversial, it's false. I can think of things other than a personal (in your sense) god that might constitute a cause for the universe."

    Can you provide an example? I suspect that any example you provide will just be god by another name.

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  148. @Steve: "1. Omnipotence. Do we see a plainly omnipotent force in the cosmos? Yes. The laws of physics are plainly omnipotent."

    And what, therefore God? That doesn't make any sense.

    Also, I have never heard omnipotence used to describe any of the laws of physics. The laws of physics (which ones btw?) are typically considered constant and fundamental, some in only idealized states, and often demonstrate the relationship between things, which is all completely different than having the ability to anything that it chooses to do.

    Also, I award you no points for quoting scripture.

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  149. (2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is god.

    (1) Nobody knows. Nobody knows the explanation of its existence.

    (2) If nobody knows the explanation, then nobody knows if the explanation is god.

    Can you provide an example?

    He doesn't need an example. Nobody freaking knows. God doesn't win by default just because nobody knows.

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  150. Can you provide an example? I suspect that any example you provide will just be god by another name.

    Well, I'm asking you to say more precisely what works as "causes" and "explanations," so I'm not exactly sure what to say. I'm not sure what's difficult about the idea of a blind, impersonal, emergent metaphysical process as a possible alternative to a god.

    -Dan L.

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  151. Well, if we're going to go by prophecy, then Epicurus wins.

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2009/05/epicurus-world.html

    Does this mean that Epicurus had access to otherworldly knowledge? Clearly, then, Epicurus' deistic impersonal god is the One True God.

    Or perhaps people sometimes make good guesses. Kinda kills lee merrill's "my faith rest entirely on the non-existence of Babylon and its tiny link to a bit of scripture in a book of unfulfilled prophecies."

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  152. Let me turn it around -- I think it's implausible that something that exists outside of time and space could be at all like a person. All the people I know are situated in time and space -- in fact, that's how I know them. They're people because they were born to parents who raised them and taught them to speak and so forth, and they're the sorts of people they are because they had certain experiences and so forth. Inasmuch as they have free will, they exercise it on the basis of prior experience, which could not possibly be true of any god existing outside of time. Furthermore, people necessarily make choices ignorant of the outcomes -- perhaps there are reasons to believe that a choice will result in one or another outcome, but no person reliably knows the future.

    Because of this, anything that I could imagine that might be prior to the universe in the sense demanded (I think unfairly) by cosmological arguments is not at all like a person. I can imagine impersonal forces and I can imagine arbitrarily limited gods -- for only a limited god could make decisions in ignorance, possibly allowing it to qualify as a person. I can also sort of imagine an unlimited god with preferences and so forth the way people do, but I'm not entirely sure it's a well-founded concept. Does having preferences require having to make choices in ignorance? I'm not sure, but it seems plausible to me.

    -Dan L.

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  153. I like where you are going with that, Dan L. I personally have found theist's conception of their own god to be mind-bogglingly small. With what we know about the universe, to even imagine that we a somehow special, that some ultimate being cares a wit for us. That he is concerned with the trivial details of our sex lives, or that we where a funny hat, or that we worship him a certain arbitrary number of times a day. That he would be personal in any way. And that such a being is so limited to even want worship. Patently absurd.

    Actually, I guess it kinda reminds me of Dr. Manhatten.

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  154. Eric: "Can you provide an example? I suspect that any example you provide will just be god by another name."

    Perhaps this universe resulted from the collision of branes. Perhaps it's the nature of non-existence to form a universe in the same sense that vacuum forms virtual particles. Perhaps a kitten in a alternate universe knocked a ball of yarn off a table and the collision created this universe.

    None of these events deserve the name "god", and if you name them such you reduce the word to something trivial.

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  155. Martin:

    Just spent a few minutes reading through Maydole's modal perfection ontological argument, and I have to say that I'm not really impressed. First of all, it uses S5 modal logic, and as such is subject to the same problems of all the other ontological arguments when it comes to the leap between imagining and instantiation.

    Until someone gives me a good reason otherwise, it is my belief that S5 was not valid in the old ontological argument, and it's not valid here.

    -Nate

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  156. > Samael: Clearly, then, Epicurus' deistic impersonal god is the One True God.

    > Or perhaps people sometimes make good guesses.

    I'll take the latter. For the more people try and rebuild Babylon, and fail, the less probable it is that this is coincidence. But the probability of Epicurus' statement does not change in this way. Good guess, by the way.

    > Kinda kills lee merrill's "my faith rest entirely on the non-existence of Babylon and its tiny link to a bit of scripture in a book of unfulfilled prophecies."

    But it doesn't. I mentioned also the survival of Jewish, Egyptian and Assyrian people, as predicted, and this is just a sample of such predictions.

    Then I've been healed a few times. Makes an impact, it does.

    Then there's the historical basis of Christianity, and all the implausible alternative explanations for the resurrection.

    Then there's ID (auugh, I hear someone saying), and finding Scripture reliable as I dig deeper.

    Then there's knowing God.

    He does speak, maybe you should ask him to reveal himself if he's there.

    "Do not, I earnestly advise you, demand an ocular proof unless you are already perfectly certain that it is not forthcoming." (C.S. Lewis)

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  157. I call BS on these supposed "robust methods of defending religious viewpoints". If there were any such robust methods, theological positions should be converging to some set of statements about God or the supernatural. Considering that Christian theology seems to be diverging all the time, creating more and more sects, the methods of theology just can't be very robust.

    (inspired by this comment by raven on Pharyngula)

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  158. "God's existence is logically necessary."

    I think this is where we have a disagreement. Why is God logically necessary?

    "If this concept is taken seriously, then by definition all "evidence" for or against God is irrelevant. God's existence, being logically necessary, is compatible with literally any contingent state of affairs. If the sky is blue, or orange, or yellow; if people are smart, or stupid, or moral, or immoral; if the Bible is well written or badly written; if all religions are forces for good or evil -- all of that is utterly irrelevant to the existence of God.

    The most common atheist arguments (PZ Myers, f'r instance, loves this one) begin with an insistence that the theist provide "evidence" for God. Myers has never once recognized that the concept of God, properly understood, makes any evidence of any sort utterly irrelevant."

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the reason PZ Myers doesn't "recognize the concept" is because he disagrees with it...

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  159. Just to get it out there, the Argument for the Existence of a Necessary Being:

    1. Every being is either a dependent being or an independent being; therefore,
    2. Either there exists an independent being or every being is dependent;
    3. It is false that every being is dependent; therefore,
    4. There exists an independent being; therefore,
    5. There exists a necessary being.

    Neither premise 1 or 2 are obviously true and the inference from 4 to 5 does not follow.

    It doesn't take a PhD in philosophy to see that.

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  160. If you are to prove that a god exists, then you have to say what a god is. So define the term. What is a god?

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  161. Most of these arguments boil down to this:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/comics/20100311.gif

    Are there any arguments for the Christian god specifically? Because even if I accepted these, I'm think Odin. So much cooler than Yahweh.

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  162. I know I'm really late to this, but I just had to pile on to this statement of AJ's:

    Therefore, insofar as there are no testable consequences, I feel obligated to respect, though not to agree with, their interpretation of their experiences.


    Look: the only thing that has no testable consequences is nothing - literally, no thing, an element from the set of things which do not exist, the null hypothesis. All things that exist have testable consequences. If you are talking about something without testable consequences, you are by definition talking about nothing.

    You are literally saying that you choose to respect something which does not actually exist, which is something of an incoherent position. Why does something which, by definition, does not exist deserve respect?

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  163. AJKamper thinks claims which can't be absolutely disproved must be respected. Nonsense. If theists cannot establish their assertions with evidence, then the respectable thing to do is reject them until they come up with something. And we don't really care how hard or difficult that might be to accomplish. That's the theists' problem. They're the ones making the positive claim. And if they discover they can't come up with enough evidence to meet the burden of proof, then they really don't have any justification to hold their beliefs themselves, knowing as we do how unreliable personal perceptions and intuitions really are. So, no, we don't need to have access to theists' personal experiences before we can make a judgment, because personal experiences aren't sufficient to meet the burden of proof anyway. We don't need to prove they aren't experiencing god, they need to prove they are...somehow. And no, it's not even our responsibility to figure out how they should go about it.

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  164. The question before us is whether there is a God or there isn't.


    Hmmm....

    If I told you "The question before us is whether there are atoms or there aren't", I think you'd give me a pretty (philosophically) unsophisticated answer to the affirmative, backed up by, what, two hundred years of experimental evidence?

    Here's a slightly more sophisticated take on the question (which I'll be applying to your question in a moment):


    Towards the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century a variety of related philosophical terms of art were developed to describe formal philosophies of science that, in one way or another, rejected the ideas of scientific Truth as correspondence to God's reality, to the ultimate reality that was supposed to lie behind appearances. Each of them insisted on the distinction between the practice of science and the practice of metaphysics:

    operationalism: the meaning of a proposition consists of the operations involved in proving or applying it.

    instrumentalism: scientific concepts and theories are just useful tools that allow one to explain and predict, but need not be assessed by their truth-as-correspondence-to-reality.

    phenomenalism: science can and should be disengaged from any talk of what lies beyond or behind appearances --- scientific knowledge is grounded not in "reality" but in sensations.

    positivism: metaphysical speculations are scientifically illegitimate, and sense-data are the only proper objects of knowledge and criteria for judging it.

    conventionalism: scientific theories are conventional claims to be assessed by their simplicity and utility and not by their truth-as-correspondence.

    pragmatism: when metaphysics comes up, change the subject, and insist instead on the intelligibility and propriety of truth considered simply as what works.

    probabilism: familiar in science since the seventeenth century, but now increasingly stressed to distinguish the legitimately modest quality of scientific certainty (about theories) with the vaulting ambition of dogmatists, speculative philosophers, and theologians; and finally

    falsificationism: best known through Karl Popper's claim in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934) that scientific generalizations can never be verified but only falsified, and that, therefore, legitimate scientific method can never establish the Truth of theories.


    From Steven Shapin's _The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation_, pp 27-28.

    So, do atoms exist?

    Well, outside of the Mind of God, we can say that we have a pretty high likelihood of a pragmatic understanding based on sensory information.

    That's a sophisticated response, and that's what allows us to teach the Ideal Gas Law as being lower-case-t-true while simultaneously understanding that atoms are not really infinitesimal points.

    But it doesn't tell us if atoms exist. And I'm sure you'd agree that if a more pragmatic solution that had better agreement with more sensory data became available that required that we dispense with the concept of atom (or, more likely, completely redefine it), that would just be good science.

    If we take god as a pragmatic model based on our sensory experiences, then I can say several interesting things about the model without having to worry about whether or not god actually exists. I can even modify my model to account for new data. To an unsophisticated audience, god can be just as real as atoms and that's all that needs to be said. To a more sophisticated audience we can talk about epistemology.

    It may be that the lack of any solid argument proving god exists is a scandal of theology. I think the more parsimonious explanation is that academic theologians don't consider it an interesting question, much like academic chemists don't try to prove the existence of atoms. It's simply the wrong question.

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  165. AJKamper wrote: "...in the end, we tend to believe the results of our experiences unless we're given a specific and concrete reason to doubt it, and that basically passes for rational thought."

    But there are many existing specific and concrete reasons for doubting people experience of the "divine" are trustworthy.

    1) Individuals who claim to experience the divine give inconsistent and often contradictory accounts of these encounters.

    2) No piece of knowledge or information transmitted through these encounters has ever proven to exceed or transcend that which could be acquired through normal human experience.

    3) No plausible mechanism has ever been proposed which could explain this supposed psychic communication.

    4) Deities which fall out of popular favor also cease their interactions with us mortals. (I'm not aware of any oracles currently receiving messages from Apollo.)

    And that's just for starters. So just by looking at the phenomenon at face value we find that almost everything about these claims of personal mental interactions with various divinities are extremely suspect. In fact, they follow a pattern that would be expected if they were completely illusory. We don't need MRIs or a better understanding of human consciousness to conclude that much.

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  166. Garamond Lethe, the concept of god sucks as an explanatory model, so I'm not sure how declaring the question of god's actual existence irrelevant improves the case for theism in any manner.

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  167. Larry,

    I have copied your challenge with my response on my weblog -

    http://jadavison.wordpress.com/2007/12/16/th-prescribed-evolutionary-hypothesis/#comment-3046
    #434

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  168. I'm disappointed to see that most of the modern arguments for the existence of God are not particularly better than the old ones. Plantinga is my exemplar for this. He resuscitates the ontological argument for the existence of God (in my opinion the worst of the old arguments), and he gives an argument which dramatically misrepresents evolution (or perhaps is merely ignorant of it).

    What are these "new" arguments for the existence of God? Given that I didn't accept many of the premises of the old ones, or in many cases found the terms used too vague or incoherent to be viable, patching up some of the reasoning does not much improve the situation.

    For example, if one does not accept the principle of sufficient reason (as I do not), all cosmological arguments are equally tedious. If you don't accept the existence of transcendent things, transcendent arguments sputter out. (I consider numbers to be useful concepts, but not things that "exist" in the same way that people and physical objects do.) If one does not accept the idea that beings can be generically ranked against each other, nor that a generic "perfection" is possible, without reference to some objective measure of value, ontological arguments can't even get off the ground.

    So, given all this, is there any actual new class of arguments? Of course, physical evidence would always be useful (in fact, a more limited type of god that has an actual physical presence in the world has more plausibility to me), but religions seem not to provide better evidence than psychics and reptoid enthusiasts.

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  169. @gilt

    The main difference between my view of God and physics, is that I reason that life and consciousness must be attributes of the laws of physics. We have both life and consciousness and operate wholly within the power of the laws of physics. Life and consciousness therefore are not aberrations, they are attributes.

    Life must have structure, power and control. In living things the control is the brain, where our consciousness resides. The universe has structure which is matter; it has power, which is energy; and it has control, which are the laws of physics. Since our control function has consciousness, is it such a great leap to think that the control function of the universe has consciousness?

    All throughout nature we see patterns, duplications and redundancy. The famous Fibonacci sequence repeats itself throughout nature. We are like a Mandelbrot variation of the greater pattern. The greatest pattern is the universe itself. It is the master pattern and everything is built upon it in infinite variety.

    The difference between my view of God and the traditional theist view of God, is that where a theist sees a master plan, I see a master pattern. God cannot have intelligence and be eternal. Intelligence is a survival mechanism. Eternal beings need no survival mechanisms. God can have consciousness and life, but not intelligence. The theist’s insistence upon an intelligent God is like a gazelle insisting that God is the fastest runner of all runners. We need to understand that intelligence is as unnecessary to God as is running ability. They are both survival mechanisms.

    The universe is like a great oak scattering stars like acorns and from these stars arise life, consciousness and eventually through the process of evolution, intelligence. It is a pattern of reproduction, of life. It is a pattern being repeated throughout the vastness of the universe itself.

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  170. Here's the best theistic argument I've seen: atheeyusts r stoopid! Sux 2 B U! Haw, haw, haw!

    http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2010/09/20/atheism-what-a-joke/

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  171. ... from above

    In short, it matters to many theists if there exists some ontologically "ultimate reality" behind everything; sure, descriptions of the natural/observable world might be founded in some really wonky anti-realist fashion but there's always God hanging out there behind it all in a privileged metaphysical position. So reframing religious arguments in pragmatic or instrumental terms is in itself rejection of the religious sphere & very few theists-- maybe existential or non-cognitivist theists-- are going to even participate in that sort of argument as a serious defense of their position.

    (This is analogous to problems in meta-ethics about defending moral reasoning, discourse, and practice if you are some variety of non-realist or have an odd notion of truth. Someone who is invested in "good" as an objective, world-located property of events which moral agents must recognize & use to justify their actions probably doesn't care about whether acting morally gets you more children or whether moral talk is useful to predict and explain others' behaviors or whatever.)

    -K.

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  172. Woops, my comment posted backwards? This part goes first.

    Garamond-

    I think there's several points where God-talk differs from atoms-talk in an important way:

    1. Observability of/public standards for atoms: A large chunk of religious evidence is based on personal revelation or feeling, for which there is little consistent standard for identifying whether or not you've had a properly religious experience and of what sort. What constitutes an atom is pretty clearly defined, they're regularly manipulated and observed with astonishing agreement in everyday scientific practice.

    Besides, God himself, apart from new-agey or pantheist conceptions of God, is not purported to be regularly observed, only roundabout evidence for God is claimed to be observed. God is more like some noises we hear in the wall that we might take as explained by a mouse, than a directly observable something that we can see with scanning microscopes & manipulate with various scientific instruments.

    2. Testability and usefulness: We have no way to systematically manipulate, experiment, or change our conditions such that certain God hypotheses might be revealed to be true or false (or pragmatically more or less useful for a broad range of purposes). The God hypotheses we are able to test, such as particular elements of doctrine ("God answers prayers"), seem to have failed. It might be emotionally useful to continue to believe that God answers prayers, but this offers no predictive value for guiding future behavior, contradicts easily observable facts as well as alternative religious doctrines, makes your set of beliefs appear incoherent to other people, etc. Assuming that atoms exist, on the contrary, has been massively useful to a large number of endeavors, is consistent with a large number of theories, and no matter what manipulation/experiment, we have not found good reason to assume otherwise.

    3. Purposes: If you're going to play the pragmatics card, you'd have to identify what purpose God-talk is supposed to be serving, and why assuming the existence of God is useful/more beneficial/more adaptive/whatever to the individual/group of persons/theory of the universe/species that assumes it than assuming otherwise. As H.H. said and I noted above, God/religious/supernatural talk makes for a piss-poor general explanatory model of the universe. So clearly it is serving some other purpose. But even once you'd identified that, you'd also have to establish that God-business is more well-positioned, or at least as well-positioned to serve its purpose than the feasible alternative of a naturalistic, atheistic universe.

    There's also the further point that many religious philosophers would probably be offended (epistemically? metaphysically? spiritually?) at the suggestion that the existence of God is "merely" a pragmatic question. I.e. I am assuming a large proportion of philosophical theists would not recognize the "force" of/be convinced by an argument for or against God based on pragmatic concerns, and would find that adopting the existence of God for pragmatic reasons would undermine religious practice. This of course doesn't say anything about whether or not the question of God's existence is actually a matter of pragmatics or not, but I think it does point to God's existence being a real, live, bothersome question to theists in a way that is usually framed in truth-correspondence & realist terms. (Interestingly, the philpapers survey indicates that philosophers of religion, who are mostly theists, endorse various realist positions, truth-correspondence, objectivity of aesthetics, etc. in greater numbers than philosophers in other subfields.)

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  173. @Lee Merrill
    Nameless Cynic said...
    @lee_merrill:

    I'll stick with KJV, since that one is, after all, "breathed out by God."

    Isaiah 17:1: The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.

    You know that Damascus is still an active, thriving city, right?


    You forgot to mention this one.

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  174. I agree with K above. As somewhat of a pragmatist myself, I don't consider Garamond's statements at all convincing. "[W]e take god as a pragmatic model based on our sensory experiences" is not an accurate description of what any theologian I've heard of thinks. Some may admit to not being able to prove the existence of a god, but it seems they are willing to assume the existence of such a being totally untethered from the pragmatic consideration of "Does this predict anything true about the world that I didn't put into the model myself?" As such, it is a fundamentally different pursuit from reasoning based on the existence of atoms.

    @Steve You are welcome to think of God as an unintelligent thing (such as the laws of physics). But as far as I can tell, what you are doing is not so much finding a "new understanding" of God, but instead redefining the term so that you get the connotations and tone of the word "God", while talking about something with a totally different meaning than the one everyone else assigns to that sequence of letters. You don't believe in God, at least not what most other English speakers mean by that word. You just believe in something else, which you have relabeled "God", using the vague word "omnipotent" to act as a flimsy bridge between the two (I have never seen a definition of "God" limited to that one word anyway).

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  175. I guess what amuses me the most about this sort of discussion is that after all these thousands of years there are STILL professional philosophers who imagine that contingent facts about the universe can be willed into existence by purely logical means. Apparently wishful thinking is so powerful that it can override the training in logic (and what it can and can't do) that these people must have had in order to get their degrees.

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  176. A question for those of you claiming Kalam and related is valid:

    Doesn't quantum mechanics throw that right out of the water?

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  177. There's another point to consider, which is that the really sophisticated arguments about God's existence posit a being far removed from any historical conception of God.
    What being does Plantinga mean when he speaks of God?
    Who the hell knows.

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  178. @Sean

    I said I'm a Spinozist, so I think that should explain my definition of God is the same as his. Spinoza said that to truly understand an entity such as God, we must first define the fundamental attributes of that entity. If omnipotence and eternal self-existence are fundamental attributes of God, and I think everyone will agree with that, then more complex attributes such as intelligence must be tested and found to be compatible with the fundamental attributes to be considered true attributes. I am merely pointing out that the attribute of intelligence is fundamentally unnecessary to an eternal being. Therefore the attribute of intelligence is not a true attribute of that eternal being.

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  179. I posted this over at CAF. The first response is a cracker!

    http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=498886

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  180. Larry,

    I think that this demand goes far beyond what the people who are accusing atheists of not understanding theology are really after, which has been hinted at by someone earlier. Let me take your explicit statement of what you want:

    "4. They claim that the "New Atheists" are naive and uninformed about theology so their arguments against God are worthless.

    I'm addressing the last point, one which is strongly advocated by many accommodationists, especially the ones who are philosophers."

    Now, above you explicitly talk about the arguments AGAINST God being called worthless, but your reply is "Well, give me an argument that works!". But it's perfectly reasonable for someone -- even a theist -- to say that while there aren't -- or at least are't yet -- any killer arguments for the existence of God, the arguments against are at best inadequate for the work the atheists want them to do and at worst completely miss the actual points, views, and complexities of the issue.

    I think that the latter is, unfortuantely, often true. As an agnostic theist, I'm not going to argue that I have any argument that lets me know that God exists. Heck, I don't even think that it's POSSIBLE to know that God exists (or, at least, I'm very skeptical that it is). But when I read how many atheists approach the theological and philosophical arguments and issues and make their claims against God or even against the arguments, a lot of the time all I can do is say "You REALLY don't understand what's going on here."

    As an example, Dawkins tries to address the ontological argument in "The God Delusion". At my blog, I posted part of a -- sadly unfinished -- critique of that book and noted that he really, really doesn't understand the ontological argument. At all. He ignores what's probably the best argument against it, misses the point of arguments like "the perfect island" in making his counter, and the only decent argument is one from I think Gasking which ALSO misses the point, but is miles better at it than anything Dawkins did.

    Let's not get into how he misinterprets dualism.

    And others are just as bad, and these often coincide with those who are saying that theology -- and even, at times, philosophy -- are pointless and meaningless. Yeah, you don't know enough to understand what the people are getting at. This is understandable; it isn't your field. I'm sure that people can -- and very much have -- make similar comments about me on the fairly rare occasions I delve into physics or biology or psychology. But just as I don't dismiss any of them -- except psychology [grin] -- you shouldn't dismiss the whole field of theology either.

    In summary, I don't need to think that there are slam-dunk arguments in favour of God's existence to think that there's more of interest or use in theology, and more weaknesses in the attempts of some atheists to address those arguments. Thus, the people you're aiming at won't be able to provide you with those slam-dunk arguments, but their concerns could still be valid.

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  181. In summary, I don't need to think that there are slam-dunk arguments in favour of God's existence to think that there's more of interest or use in theology, and more weaknesses in the attempts of some atheists to address those arguments.

    That's quite all right, professional philosophers have made mincemneat of all of them. We don't need Dawkins for that purpose.

    The idea that one should believe outrageous, unsupported claims just because there are (supposedly) no good arguments against them would make an intelligent five-year-old laugh. That an adult can advance such rubbish with every appearance of seriousness is, again, proof of the power of wishful thinking.

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  182. Let me take my stab at showing what the best sort of argument would be.

    My view is that the First Cause argument is the best starting point. I am convinced that in order for the universe or whatever to exist, there must be something that exists necessarily. I am unconvinced by claims that you can extend the causal chain infinitely backwards, that time stops at the Big Bang and so causation does (this seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding of what causation actually is in the philosophical sense, to conflate it with what we normally see), or that "something can come from nothing" (since, to me, that completely misunderstands what "nothing" means in context of that argument). I don't find multiverse theories satisfactory because I think that I can easily trace the causal chain back to them as well, and ask why they exist. So, to me, it seems pretty reasonable -- perhaps even obvious -- that we have to have one necessary object.

    Why? Because what I'm talking about are contingent things, and contingent things seem, by definition, to need a cause. To break the chain, the only reasonable reply is to posit the existence of at least one -- though there could be more -- non-contingent things to kick things off.

    If we have a God who created all contingent things, saying that that God would thus be non-contingent and necessary is not a stretch.

    Now, there is an objection here, which is that it doesn't have to be God. Why can't it be the universe? I concede that, yes, it could be. So that sort of argument is incomplete. What we'd want to know, though, is if that necessary thing has to be intelligent. If it does, then we have what would essentially count in all interesting ways as a god, and a general atheistic position is refuted (even if we aren't sure what god it is). If it doesn't, then we really don't have any reason beyond the folk stories handed down to think any god exists (which will fall short of knowledge, but might be acceptable for belief depending on the epistemology).

    So, the best argument to bring in here would be the Argument from Design. But it, as well, has reasonable objections. Unfortunately, so do the objections. Because mutations play a large role in evolution, for example, how could we tell either in the fossil record or in studies today whether a mutation was "randomish" or a deliberate tweak? Since specific organisms' or groups' mating can have a large impact, how could we rule out some force that deliberately tweaked attraction so that those matings happened? So in most cases, my reply is "We don't have enough data yet, and probably won't be able to get it" for these questions. On both sides.

    Now, onto a necessary being and empirical evidence. I originally thought that arguments like the "First Cause" argument and the Ontological argument were bad because they couldn't appeal to the world. My opinion has changed, because I asked myself "How could you empirically prove anything about a necessary being?" Presuming it exists, the defining qualities of it are qualities it has, not qualities it just happens to have, and you can't prove anything by looking really hard for it since there's no way to empirically say "This thing has to exist". So, for anything dealing with non-contingent things, non-empirical logic is, in fact, exactly how you'd go about proving it (in most cases; the intelligence is an exception since it's just trying to show that there has to be intentionality involved, which allows for the leap to an intelligent non-contingent being).

    Unfortunately, none of those work, and I'm still not entirely convinced that the logical route is the right one.

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  183. @verbosestoic

    If intelligence is not a required attribute of God then looking for rational explanations of God is pointless. God would be something to be experienced rather than something to be figured out and so the theist may be wrong in the the logic, but right in the experience.

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  184. "God's existence is logically necessary. In other words, if you are thinking of a being whose existence is contingent, then you are not thinking of God.

    "If this concept is taken seriously, then by definition all "evidence" for or against God is irrelevant. God's existence, being logically necessary, is compatible with literally any contingent state of affairs. If the sky is blue, or orange, or yellow; if people are smart, or stupid, or moral, or immoral; if the Bible is well written or badly written; if all religions are forces for good or evil -- all of that is utterly irrelevant to the existence of God."


    The important part is in bold. There is no reason to take this claim seriously. You can't define something into existence, and this is where the modal argument - like so many before it - collapses.

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  185. I am convinced that in order for the universe or whatever to exist, there must be something that exists necessarily.

    That may be of concern to those who for some reason are interested in your personal psychology, but not otherwise. And it's fallacious, because there's no reason at all to reject the possibility that that fact that something exists is contingent rather than necessary. In fact current theories in cosmology make it quite clear that the existence of anything we would recognize as "something" is indeed contingent.

    And before you even get that far, radioactive decay and its quantum-mechanical explanation long ago disposed of the claim that a contingent event must have a cause. That claim is simply false.

    Really, don't bother with the incompetent word salads. They will impress only those desperate to be convinced.

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  186. Steve, if you were really a Spinozist you would understand the significance of the phrase "deus sive natura". Experiencing Spinoza's "god" is simply our normal experience of the natural universe. Don't be fooled by the Cartesian handwaving he employed to disguise a position that, as has been pointed out many times over the centuries, is logically indistinguishable from atheism.

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  187. @VerboseStoic:

    There are documented events without a cause in physics. Please justify why "First Cause" is a valid argument.

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  188. A couple of funny things. First, to answer the Odin comment about the proof I offered. In PZ Myers, it was Thor. Typical of such language games like those of the Gnu Atheists is the same mechanical thinking comes up. And Steve answered it for himself, Odin existence is same to Wotan. "God" is also too complex a notion to dismiss with same brush aside. The GNU Atheists misuse language.

    Finally, with all the talk of MRI and experience and the claims to being to being "Science" based criticism of religion, I am shock that none of Gnu Atheists even brought up the work of Andrew Newberg. Then again, on reflection, it is not surprising as the Gnu Atheist put on the cloth of Science with actually doing science. That is why a scientist of little scientific accomplishment like Harris can question a first rate scientist like Francis Collins and get away with it in Gnu Atheists circles. Science is secondary to rhetoric and towing the party line.

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  189. My view is that the First Cause argument is the best starting point. I am convinced that in order for the universe or whatever to exist, there must be something that exists necessarily.

    It seems to me the biggest problem here is that arguments like Kalam smuggle in a great deal of metaphysics that are actually in serious question, especially given particular results of modern science. In talking to Martin and Eric and in the bit quoted from verbose_stoic above, there seems to be a very definitive sense in which they use terms like "exists," "causes," "explanation," etc.

    Now, as a skeptic, I don't claim to have necessary and sufficient conditions for something to exist. I realize that things "exist" in different modes -- the thunder, being caused by the lightning and not causing it, "exists" in a different sense, or is "caused" in a different sense than the lightning itself. Both are events, so we may be straining the use of the word "exists." And clearly, if we say lightning "exists" or "is caused," we mean this in a different sense than when we say a table "exists" or "is caused." Finally, and most importantly to Kalam, the universe as the set or collection of all things or stuff or events or whatever "exists" or "is caused" in a different manner than any particular element OF the universe.

    It seems to me that arguments like first cause rely on outdated Aristotelian notions of causality, existence, etc. and haven't come to terms with the results of empirical science that discredit Aristotelian metaphysics and ontology.

    Again, for a skeptic, this is not a problem because we're not committing to any particular metaphysics or ontology -- we're building it up piecemeal through tentative scientific results. When, for example, Eric asks me for an explanation of the universe that doesn't involve a person-like god, I'm inclined to say, "A so-far undiscovered scientific theory," and for me that's fine. I'd say something similar if someone asked me to explain abiogenesis -- we have some interesting ideas, some interesting empirical results, but nothing definitive.

    But the important part is, I don't need to be able to come up with an example. I'm not arguing that "There is no God." I'm simply arguing AGAINST the proposition "There is a God." Theists and atheists are not making equivalent claims. I don't need to assent to any particular explanation for the universe to reject god as an explanation.

    -Dan L.

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  190. @Tito:

    "God" is also too complex a notion to dismiss with same brush aside. The GNU Atheists misuse language.

    If you're just going to slag, get lost. If you have a point to make, make it.

    -Dan L.

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  191. @Tito Tinajero:

    I think my irony meter just exploded. This from the person trying to confuse concept and existence

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  192. 'Extreme ignorance of the most basic principles and ideas, and willful refusal to increase their knowledge.'

    No.

    The point of the original post was to get people who say things like that to show us their cards.

    This is how the argument *always* goes.

    Theist: We've got great arguments.
    Atheists: Tell us one.
    Theist: No, you strident ignoramus.
    Atheists: Go on. Pleeeease.
    Theist: OK. Well, how about all those Biblical prophecies that came true?
    Atheists: Really? That's the best you can do? How about the bit where Jesus says he won't drink wine again until he's in heaven, then a few verse later he drinks wine.
    Theist: That is such an unsophisticated argument it doesn't merit discussion.

    ... and so on.

    You got nothing. Admit it. At least in poker the person bluffing actually has cards, rather than some smug assertion that they don't need *literal* cards

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  193. Steve,

    "If intelligence is not a required attribute of God then looking for rational explanations of God is pointless. God would be something to be experienced rather than something to be figured out and so the theist may be wrong in the the logic, but right in the experience."

    Please show me where I ever said that intelligence was not a required attribute of God. My argument pretty much assumes that if the necessary thing that created everything is intelligent, that pretty much makes it a god.

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  194. @Steve LaBonne

    Yes, I understand God and/or Nature; logically, no difference. My point is the experience is different. Cartesian hand-waving makes reconciling the experience with the logic easier to accomplish. There are verifiable experiences that come from acting in a non-self-interested manner. A person does feel better when they behave in a non-biased manner, i.e., do unto others, etc. Are those experiences the product of evolutionary group behaviors? Certainly, but a completely natural reaction would come from a completely natural God.

    This validates the experience and gives the theist a way to move from irrational to rational. That is why I accommodate the theist and use their language. I am sure it is why Spinoza used similar language. If you don't speak the language you can't communicate effectively.

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  195. Steve LeBonne,

    "That's quite all right, professional philosophers have made mincemneat of all of them. We don't need Dawkins for that purpose.

    The idea that one should believe outrageous, unsupported claims just because there are (supposedly) no good arguments against them would make an intelligent five-year-old laugh. That an adult can advance such rubbish with every appearance of seriousness is, again, proof of the power of wishful thinking."

    I admit, I don't get the point of what you said here. You seem to agree that Dawkins and others make arguments against the existence of God, that doing that would be theology, and that they get them wrong, at least partly due to a lack of understanding of what the theological arguments are. Or, at least, your initial concession SEEMS to indicate that. Since that -- at this point -- is all that I am arguing as per the point that Larry says he's concerned about, I fail to see what the rest has to do with that point.

    As for your comments that professional philosophers have made mincemeat out of the arguments ... professional philosophers have also pointed out that the supposed making of mincemeat isn't as good a mincing as one might think. People still argue over these things, you know.

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  196. verbosestoic, I am saying that it doesn't matter how well Dawkins and others without philosophical training have done in responding to the nonsensical arguments of the likes of Plantinga, because professional philosophers have already done that job. (Of course, the very fact that Dawkins and other gnu atheists are even aware of and have addressed such arguments at all is sufficient proof that Shook's thesis is pure bullcrap.)

    Now, notice that I am not the one claiming that Dawkins has not addressed this garbage adequately. IMHO he has. And it's not a difficult feat; given how silly it is, a clever 10 year old could do it easily.

    People still argue over these things, you know.

    Only because philosophers of religion still come up with nonsense that would be laughed out of any other subdiscipline of philosophy, and competent, conscientious philosophers feel that such rubbish should not pass without criticism.

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  197. Cartesian hand-waving makes reconciling the experience with the logic easier to accomplish.

    Speak for yourself. To me it's simply the same kind of squid ink that Hume employed to stay out of jail.

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  198. Speak for yourself.

    I do. I have found my friends who are theists more likely to listen to reason if their experience is not challenged. Challenge reason and you can make progress. Challenge experience and you make none. There is no adequate challenge to experience. What you can do is redefine the experience through language. If you validate the experience through reason, then reason is the friend of experience and reason can be accepted. That is what makes me an accomodationist, that I prefer gentle reason to confrontation.

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