a dialogue on atheism
9/23/2006 11:04:00 PM
I posed a question on atheism on Yahoo! Answers the other day, based on an observation I had made on other questions. One guy, "Evil Atheist Cannibal" and I had a dialogue. Here are the results:

The Question: How does reason lead to atheism?

I often read answers to questions dealing with atheism that say that reason (common sense, thinking, rationality etc.) will lead one to atheism but the response generally fail to explain how. That not reason at all, but rather a statement with no warrant. So I thought I would pose the question: How does reason lead to atheism? I don't care so much about the reason as the reasoning. Use credibility -- (i.e. not calling God a pixie or a fairy) or things like that. These things are fallacious, and most presumably intelligent people would see through that.

Reply 1 from EAC:

Simply because there is no logical reason to believe in a god. God-beliefs are not necessary to explain any natural processes, or the creation and formation of any natural bodies, and there is just simply no evidence for a god or gods. A belief without evidence, or "blind faith" is irrational, because by having "blind faith," you are admitting that your belief cannot be taken on its own merits.

I also thought of another question: do you think that logic and reason lead away from a belief in pink unicorns? If so, applying the same arguments that you've been using against the atheists who have answered your question, explain why a belief in pink unicorns is illogical and irrational.

My Reply:

Evil, You are saying that there is no evidence for God. If that is true then one cannot conclude there is a God. You'd be correct in saying that there is no logical reason for believing in God and you say blind faith is irrational, and I grant that, but how does that lead to atheism?

If one wants to conclude atheism, one has to have proof that God does not exist rather than claiming that there is no proof for his existence. If there is no proof for or against his existence, then one cannot conclude either way. Agnosticism would thus be the only conclusion, which does not disprove God, but niether does it prove God.

In others words, unless one has evidence that God does not exist, then one is making a conclusion on "blind faith" which as we established is irrational.

Reply 2 from EAC:

Well, at least we agree that blind faith is irrational. However, I'm not sure that you know quite what atheism is. Whereas agnosticism is simply a professed lack of knowledge, atheism is a professed lack of belief. In other words, it is not an absolute, "there is no god" position. It simply means that we do not believe in a god or gods. A lack of evidence is perfectly satisfactory for one to be an atheist, and it is up to the theist to provide evidence for a god or gods, since it is completely unnecessary to prove a negative.

Referring back to my pink unicorn example, do you think that it is more logical to be agnostic or atheistic towards the existence of pink unicorns? Concerning pink unicorns, do you profess agnosticism or atheism regarding their existence?

My Reply:

Evil, you define atheism as lack of belief. Not all atheists do. Would this be the same thing as a claim that God does not exist, or something that resembles agnosticism, where I cannot believe that God exists? The latter would weak atheism, and the former strong atheism.

Second, I opted not to answer the pink unicorn specifically because I thought I had done so when I was talking about atheism. (Concluding God does not exist from lack of evidence.). Such an example is "reductio ad absurdum", or mocking the argument rather than debating it. I could do the same thing, saying that we didn't have evidence for Pluto's existence until someone discovered, so it must not have existed unti it was discovered. It the same logic atheists use, but the fallacy turned around and I commit it by saying that.

Concerning pink unicorns, one could say that pink unicorns do exist. They exist in stories fairytales and the like. But does that rule out that they could not exist in reality? Can you anymore prove that they don't exist than I prove that they do? Can you prove that you are not in the Matrix?

One of the fundamentals of empiricism is that it can only make observations and conclusions about the realm of reality in which it exists, which is nature. Because it is limited to the natural realm, one cannot make conclusions about the supernatural realm based on empiricism alone. Any conclusion outside of nature would be an ontological leap either toward or away from the supernatural.

Reply 3 from EAC:

What difference does it make if not all atheists follow that definition? How does that change anything? The definition of a word is not dependent on whether or not everybody agrees on what the word means. If you look at atheism, "a" means without, and "theism" means "god-beliefs." Therefore, an atheist is simply a person without a belief in a god or god. It's as simple as that, but you keep trying to unnecessarily make a more complicated case out of it.

And again, you seem to have missed my point when I said that "atheism is not an absolute." Do I say with absolute certainty that there is no god because there is no evidence? No. I simply point out that since there is no evidence, there is no reason to believe, and it is unlikely that such a being exists. So please stop referring to atheism as an absolute belief, because I agree that such an idea is illogical, but that simply isn't what atheism is.

And as far as the pink unicorns go, my point was simply that your logic can be applied to anything. Do you believe in a kwertyte? What's a kwertyte? It's a creature that I just made up. But it could very well exist. You cannot prove that it doesn't exist. Therefore, it makes more sense to remain "agnostic" about its existence, does it not? I don't think so.

And finally, you are most certainly correct that empirical evidence is unrelated to the "supernatural world." However, there is no evidence supporting the existence of a supernatural world. And since there is no evidence, why would I believe in it?

My Reply

Evil, concerning epistemology: You seem to be an empiricist based on what you have said, but based on other statements it doesn?t seem to be so.

Pure empiricism assumes that what one can know can only be learned from the natural world. If this is all we can know, then one cannot make any kind of conclusion about the supernatural world. A theist then can?t prove anything in an empiricist framework, because empiricism is presumes that the supernatural is unknowable. What is so confusing is that you are making an ontological judgment about the supernatural world based on lack of empirical evidence so you are breaking rules of empiricism twofold: no evidence and a statemet about the supernatural. Empiricism cannot make any statement about theism: whether it exists, might exist, or does not; whether it is unbelievable or believable. Empiricism has to be agnostic on the matter, otherwise it not empiricism, but something else. So which is it -- empricism or somthing else?

Reply 4 from EAC

No offense, but you seem to supply a lot of wordy, intelligent-sounding answers without a lot of substance.

I have already told you how I view atheism; it is a simple lack of belief, and the word itself supports that notion ("a": without; "theism": god-belief; "atheism": without god-beliefs). That is all; I have no belief in a god or gods. What is so hard to understand about that?

And yes, I am an empiricist. To the best of my knowledge, I have never claimed otherwise. The problem here is that you are making assertions and assumptions about a purely theoretical world: "the supernatural world." How do you know that such a place would be unconnected with nature, and thus is exempt from empirical observation? Where do you gain such insight on "the supernatural world?" What kind of evidence would be appropriate for this "supernatural world?" Why would I have any sort of belief in a realm whose existence is impossible to verify?

My Reply:

On atheism: The reason I am asking for a type of atheism is that atheists, not theists, define different types of atheism. Sure ? the word atheism means ?without god-beliefs? etymologically speaking, but that covers a swath of positions. Some firmly believe that God doesn?t exist. Others believe that God is not knowable so has no reason to believe in God, which doesn?t deny God?s existence like the former. Some say belief in anything supernatural is absurd, so they reject belief in God based on that. All these are ?without god-beliefs? but the positions are fundamentally different in the approach. How one arrives at a conclusion is just or if not more important than the conclusion itself. I could say pink unicorns exist, but without explaining why I make myself look like a fool. The same goes for atheism. In order for something to be true, it has be justified.

On Empricism: The problem with an empiricist making ontological judgments about God is that they are circular. There are many forms of this argument, but basically, it looks like this:

1.) The natural world is all that is knowable.
2.) Because the natural world that is knowable, the supernatural (God) can't be known.
3.) Therefore evidence for the existence of God is unobtainable.
4.) Therefore the supernatural (God) is unknowable, so there is no reason to believe.

The problem with this argument is that no evidence for God existence can ever be obtained so it is therefore frontloaded with the notion that God doesn't exist or is unknowable rather than actually proving anything about God. The conclusion is the same as the premise, which is circular reasoning.

Second, the statements make an ontological judgment: God doesn't exist or one cannot have belief in God. Such statements can't be made empiricist framework, because empirical conclusions require evidence. If evidence doesn?t exist, then no conclusion can be made and the concept of God is meaningless because it can't be described.

The polar opposite of empiricisms is rationalism, which basically says that everyone has an innate set of knowledge from which to work. This is analogous to a computer?a computer has to have a BIOS (Basic Input Output System) to interface between the hardware and the software before anything can be loaded onto the computer. Without the computer won?t work. Rationalist say that one has to be at least aware of ones senses before he or she can use them. Other rationalist say there is more, like the universal ?Good? of Plato, and the ?Noumena? of Kant. One such is that all reasonable people think murder is wrong, not because they were told so, but because intuition tells them so. This type of knowledge is ?a priori? or exists independent of sense experience. Theist claim God ?installed? this a priori knowledge in people.

There are mediated postions too. I don't reject emprical knowledge, but I think there is warrant to rationalism.

Reply 5 from EAC:

I just thought of something else: you asked how reason led to atheism. Using the definition that I provided ("without theism"), and the shared idea of blind faith being illogical, what is illogical and unreasonable about atheism?

My Reply:

As I stated above about circular reasoning, atheists don't reason to the conclusion that God doesn't exist or that belief in God is impossible, they assume it based on thier empistemology.

If I say something about God based on an assumption, then it's not based on empirical evidence. That's no different than blind faith.
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