Twitter and Shallow Reasoning
Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion with two users (@LifesPoser and @JoeUnseen) about the existence of God. As usual, they were crowing about how I need to prove that God exists before they’ll listen to me.
So I responded with links to three YouTube videos from Dr. Roland Nash:
First of all, I doubt that these guys watched all of the videos. The discussion centered around the first video, where Dr. Nash explains that we as humans take for granted a number of propositions that we are unable to prove. Two such examples are the existence of an external world and the existence of other minds (known as solipsism; and one user even ridiculed my entire argument by saying that when the theist resorts to solipsism, that means he’s beat).
The shallow reasoning in question:
Not correct, not even a little bit. Just because I’m experiencing the external world, I can’t call that evidence of the existence of the external world. All such evidence–picking up a crayon off my basement floor, sitting in a chair, talking to my wife–is part of the very thing I’m trying to prove.
Consider trying to prove a murder in court. We’re trying to prove that the act itself occurred. We can’t see the act itself, only the evidence produced by the act. Security footage (not the actual act, mind you, but a recording of it–the actual act happened in the past and is not accessible to us). A knife with the defendant’s fingerprints on the handle and the victim’s blood on the blade. Footprints matching the defendant’s shoes in blood fleeing the crime scene. These things are incidental to the act itself, they exist as a record of the act.
With trying to prove the external world, everything that you can point to is part of the external world, not a record of its existence. This is akin to my fellow theists saying that the Bible is God’s word because it says so. You can’t do that; it’s begging the question.
There are equally plausible metaphysical explanations for an outside world. Look at The Matrix. You can’t prove that isn’t what’s happening right now.
The take away point is that you are rational for believing in the existence of an external world. Moreover, you are rational for believing that the people you encounter have minds. And, you are rational for believing that there is a shared experience with that other person when we’re standing in the same room. We see the same lamp. We sit together at the same table.
You can’t prove it. But, you’d be irrational to consider The Matrix scenario. You’d be locked up if you came to believe that. That’s how good The Matrix is at detecting and punishing dissent from it. (Ooops! Is that Agent Smith knocking at my door?)
So Alvin Plantinga argues that we are rational for believing in the existence of God without having to provide empirical evidence for it. I’m not proving the existence of God any more than I’m proving the external world. I’m providing rational reasons for my belief in God. These I’ve detailed before:
- The existence of something rather than nothing
- Cosmology points to a universe with an absolute beginning, implying a transcendent cause (a cause cannot be part of the resulting effect)
- Harmony of nature (look at the imbalances caused by transplanting non-indigenous species into a new environment or by the unnatural extinction of a member of that biosphere)
- Complex structure of even inorganic matter
- Appearance of design in biology is best explained by actual design
- Existence of absolute morality (human sacrifice is always wrong, even if the Canaanites, Aztecs, and Mayans [among others] thought it was business as usual)
- DNA is a living language, and languages don’t just “come together” one day
- Conscious existence of humans with a free will
Multiple lines of reasoning (not really evidence or proof) coalesce to make the existence of God much more likely than not. Each of those items by itself makes God very likely, but the cumulative case becomes much, much stronger. Pretty tough to shake, in my own estimation.
Now, I know it’s fashionable among atheists to say that I bear 100% of the burden of proof since I’m the “prosecution” making the positive claim (“The defendant committed the crime, your honor!”). But that’s just American imperialism. Other justice systems make the defendant bear the burden of proof (“I did not commit the crime, your honor!”). Given all this, I’d say the atheist (at minimum) has at least one burden of proof, though he’s not going to like hearing me say it.
He owes me reasons why non-belief is rational. Note that I’m not asking him to prove a negative. I’m asking for what I just gave here–multiple lines of evidence and argument that make the nonexistence of God more likely than not. Given the usual squawking about theistic burden of proof, I’m not holding my breath for these reasons.
Posted on July 15, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Philosophy and tagged Alvin Plantinga, Cosmology, Existence of God, free will, Intelligent Design, logic, Morality, Roland Nash, teleology. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.
I’ll respond to your post, I’m not holding my breath you’ll want to think about my responses. I agree atheists have to give rational reasons for non-belief so let’s go through your ‘reasons’ point by point.
1. Saying that having something rather than nothing is a proof of your god is a Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy (correlation does not imply cause). Do you know HOW this universe started? This question is at the cutting edge of theoretical physics, and you imply your a priori god magicked it up? Existence may be as likely as non-existence, and in no way implies impossibly complex beginnings or creator.
2. Cosmology does NOT point to an absolute beginning, or transcendent cause. COSMOGONY is what you describe, physicists have many theories about it but no conclusion. Any arguments for supernatural explanations are merely Argument From Ignorance or God Of The Gaps fallacies. Otherwise, who’s to say a pink unicorn didn’t fart existence into reality?
3. Harmony of Nature is actually a great argument for a naturalistic explanation. If nature was imbalanced, yet still sustained itself, it may be evidence of a cause outside of nature. So no, it’s not a great reason for supernatural beliefs.
4. Inorganic complexity from simplicity is easily explained throughout the effect of gravity on creating stars and heavier elements, when gravity either wins or loses it’s pull on the expanding universe, complexity ceases. Again no deity needed.
5.Apparent design in biology WAS a powerful argument for a designer, until evolution showed natural selection was an unknowing driver of complex phenotypes as each organism strove for their share of resources, and DNA mutations favoured those who could do it better. Also, if a god is responsible for our ecosystem, there are many examples of flawed designs in nature, including 99% of all life that went extinct. Did you god screw up?
6. What evidence of absolute morality? Can you give examples? The Jewish/Islamic/Christian god seems to change his mind often on moral precepts i.e. Thou shall not kill (then he kills, or gets others to do it)
7. I don’t know of any biologist who postulates DNA formed in 1 day, so your statement is likely a typical creationist straw man fallacy. It’s interesting to note that Genesis says all languages were magicked in 1 day because the god was discouraging a planned urban development that may reach heaven (Tower of Babel)
8. Your free will statement is not supported. How can you prove our actions are not just complicated reactions to stimuli? If you believe in an omniscient god, then he or she knows all our thoughts & actions in advance, rendering us mere automatons.
None of your reasons are good explanations for your faith and many contain fallacious statements. None of them explain why one god is more likely than another.
A study of the origin of all gods show no reason to believe in ANY of them, and are as ridiculous as each other.
Let’s sort this mess out:
I’m already underwhelmed. You agree that you owe some rational reason to think that God doesn’t exist, but this intro implies that you’re not going to give me a single one. Reading your comment through to conclusion bears that out. All you do is try to shoot holes in my reasons, which really isn’t the same thing as providing reasons of your own.
Actually, I’m not trying to prove “my” God (he’s your God, too, by the way, whether you believe that or not). I’m only trying to show that belief in a god is rational, and that’s not at all the same thing. However, things that begin to exist do have a cause, causes outside of themselves. The trick is that no one has discovered any sort of cause that could possibly exist outside the universe, since everything we know to exist exists within the universe. So, God is a reasonable cause for the universe. The only possible cause? No. But, each point here is only supposed to make God more likely than not, and a transcendent creator is a reasonable cause to postulate given what we know of the universe.
I’ve always mixed cosmology and cosmogony up. Sorry.
The problem that physicists are facing is that they are making a priori assumptions that the universe has a natural explanation, and so the math that they’re using tries to “trick” the universe into not really having an absolute beginning in space and time. That beginning makes God much more likely, so the attempt to explain the universe as an interaction of natural laws has to show that the universe always existed, since with it the natural laws governing it came to be.
Nothing, absolute nothing, then something popped in, then nothing happened to something and made everything? I’ve said it before: Inertia is a b****.
No, because order declines within a system if left to itself. A car engine, for example, has many complex interactions to sustain a chain reaction that keeps the automobile moving under its own power. Those interactions are purposefully designed. The engine also requires regular maintenence, or else those complex interactions break down and the car doesn’t work anymore.
Why when we see complexites in nature do folks such as yourself say that it is evidence of NO design or purpose, but when we see the same things in automobiles or computers you know the item is purposely designed? In other words, precise and complex interactions in nature are evidence that no one had anything to do with it, while complex and precise interactions in machinry are evidence that engineers are really smart. There’s your special pleading.
I’m not talking about simple forms producing more complex forms through a natual interaction, such as water forming crystals as the temperature lowers. I’m talking about how the deeper you look on the micro level, how complex it is. Atoms are exceedingly complex, subatomic structures are even more complex, and then the question of why these things interact at all (and in the precise way they do) to form the amazing things they are capable of.
And, incidentally, none of these complex things are even 1/10th as complex as a living cell.
I agree evolution is a fact of life, and I agree that living organisms change over time. A leopard can change its spots, but it’s still a leopard. I disagree that random mutation acted on by natural selection is a sufficient driver of creating entirely new organisms.
I’ve answered objective morality in another comment, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here.
Where did God say not to kill? Not in my Bible. He says not to “commit murder.” God may have killed, or delegated that task to other agents, but he didn’t commit murder, which would be the taking of an innocent life. Sinning against God is a serious offense and merits death–and that is so for any sin. So that analogy fails. By the way, I’ve answered this before! I hate having to repeat myself over and over again.
My position on objective morality leads nicely into my reply to this point:
If that’s the case, then close all the prisons and release the murders, the embezzlers, and the rapists. They were just producing complicated responses to stimuli.
Here’s the thing: I know you don’t believe that’s true. I know that you believe that the murders and the rapists and the embezzlers did what they did freely and should be punished for it. Otherwise, it is what it is and we have no ability to judge it. No free will implies no moral duty.
And the tail end of this quandary poses yet another argument I’ve already responded to. “Knows” does not equates to “forced,” so just because God is omnicisent doesn’t mean that we are forced to make a particular choice. It just means he knows we’ll make it.
I’ve said nothing about the length of time that it took DNA to form. The point I’m making is that DNA is a language, so however long it took to form (24 hours, 36.2 minutes, 8,455 years 4 days 12 hours) you still never rebutted the actual point. A language is a construction of intelligence.
And if all you get out of the Tower of Babel story is that God squelched urban development, then you are so darkened to the meaning of Scripture that I can’t help you.
Good! I’m glad that my reasons didn’t argue for one God over another. I never set out to do that. You decided that I set out to do that, then concluded that I failed. Of course I failed–I was only trying to prove that belief in a god is rational, not prove that “my” God (who is, as I’ve said, also your God) exists.
As I’ve expounded before, this is quite an apathetic position to hold. You might even be able to take off the first “a” in that word to describe it as well.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that you have a perfect soul mate somewhere out there. If you seek her, you will find her–guaranteed. Noticing that there are a plethora of women, you realize that the odds of finding the one soulmate are so awful that you give up the search before starting. You’re a confirmed bachelor. That’s lazy and apathetic, and therefore not an impressive reason to think that God doesn’t exist.
So, in answer to your final question, NOT ME.
This is your reply? A link to an old comment that leads to Jesus is your ‘objective confirmation of God’? Where is the rebuttal of my points? Scholarly debate? I’m writing that your entire belief structure is in error and you can’t defend it in detail?
No worries, I’ll work with what I have. There is NO contemporary evidence of Jesus. The closest text to evidence is that of Josephus’s Antiquities, which is an obvious interpolation (A Romanized Jew who in a few passages, out of context, proclaims Jesus as the messiah yet hardly mentions him again? Humbug!).
The Jesus legend was the driver of my freedom from indoctrination. The gospels never read like an normal account of someone’s life, rather a edited cut and paste of moments. When I started to read some critical bible scholars as well as apologists, suddenly it all made sense. The mess of different genealogies, 4 different versions of the tomb, 2 different deaths of Judas, why huge crowds suddenly appeared in the wilderness; it was to fit the writer’s fictional narrative. Maybe they thought they were inspired, maybe just lied, either way, the accounts had no validity of representing actual events.
My indoctrination was strong though, and it took Dawkins (not his theology strangely enough, it was his evolutionary work on altruism) to eliminate the religious delusions from my consciousness.
Yet rather than my sense of morality weakening, I found it was strengthened by removing my blinkers to religious intolerance, and to judge people by their actions, and not by their beliefs or private sex lives.
And I don’t miss an all-pervasive all-knowing Big Brother who watches me on the toilet, and will punish me for private thoughts.
First of all, that link was not a reply to you. I had not yet read your comments when I wrote that post. That’s called a pingback. It’s a blogging feature that enables me to keep track of who links to me, assuming that they have that feature enabled.
As to your actual reply, I refuse to rebut the absurd claim that Jesus never existed, similar to how I ignore comments along the lines of “How can you prove that your god created the universe, and a pink unicorn didn’t fart it into existence?” It is totally ridiculous and fallacious on every possible level, and has been repeatedly demonstrated to be a conclusion against all available evidence. It has no scholarly support.
Read it. I’ve heard atheists who were totally convinced that Jesus never existed reading that book and only halfway through repenting of their silliness. They still don’t believe he’s the Son of God, but they believe that he did exist and that the Gospels are the true and correct story of his life. The Gospels may not read like a biography that you’d find on the bookshelf at Barnes & Noble, but they sure read like a biography that a first century Greek historian would write.
It sounds like the twitter conversation is micsommunicating over definition of the word prove.
1) Provide strong evidence for; Demonstrate. I can prove that Morphine is addictive.
2) Show to be true with 100% accuracy. I cannot disprove solipsism.
Cory Tucholski, can you provide reasons why non-belief is rational? I’m asking for multiple lines of evidence and argument that make the nonexistence of Amun more likely than not.
Cory Tucholski said: “I’ve asked the atheist to provide good reasons to not accept the existence of God. No one has stepped up”
Thanks for reminding me, I should have responded originally.
The reason I have to not accept the existence of Yahweh, is that the arguments/evidence that I have seen, do not persuade me on the balance of probabilities. This is the same for any other creature/entity/deity.
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