On Rational Discussion
The following meme is making the Facebook/Twitter rounds that shows how to have rational discourse:
As usual, I think that this is incredibly simplistic. When you unpack some of these, red flags start to go up. The person who created this, I think, has an agenda and is so focused on that agenda that he is no longer concerned with truth.
Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic? The key word here is “envision.” I can’t envision anything that would change my mind on the existence God. That, however, doesn’t mean I will be irrational in a discussion. Perhaps during the conversation we can find something I had not thought of that would change my mind on God.
Just because I can’t envision it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I have an open enough mind to accept that I may be wrong about the existence of God, while being confident that I’m not. Aristotle observed, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I can entertain thoughts I don’t accept — my goal is truth, not comfort.
As a further point, I think that it is easy to use this as a crutch to end an inconvenient discussion by equivocating irrationality and passion. I passionately believe in God, which is why I can’t envision anything changing my mind on that. But that is not the same as irrationality.
Are you prepared to abide by the basic principles of reason in discussing this topic? Two rules are given as an example:
- The position that is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence should be accepted as true.
- The person who asserts a position bears the onus of demonstrating its truth.
With regard to (1), “evidence” is (as it always is with atheists) left undefined. Empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence aren’t the only forms of evidence. Only accepting empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence is a form of logical positivism called either empircism or scientism (depending on which form you accept). Neither position is consistent with itself, since there is no empirical or scientific evidence that would support a belief in those position.
Both positions, in fact, rule out the knowledge we gain from history, mathematics, and philosophy. They also exclude eyewitness testimony from discussion.
Meaning that we accept things as true without “evidence” all the time — if that’s what is meant by “evidence.” Remember that when we get to the farcical rules of discussion below.
I agree wholeheartedly with (2) provided you understand atheists share a burden of proof.
Once entered, four additional rules are given to govern the discussion:
Do not introduce a new argument while another argument has yet to be resolved. I don’t, but every atheist I’ve had a discussion with has done this to me. So, I won’t start doing this but please, atheists, don’t do this to me, either.
Do not move on to another argument if it is shown that a fact you have relied upon is inaccurate. I’ll just admit my mistake, but this doesn’t happen to me often.
Provide evidence for your position or arguments. Again, atheists should be doing this, too. Atheists seldom back their own unbelief in God up with evidence or arguments. This is both lazy and a direct violation of one of the basic principles of rational discussion (that the true position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence). Argue it’s reasonable. Give me the evidence.
Do not argue that you do not need evidence. Again, the obsessive requirement for evidence is logically inconsistent, because there is no evidence for accepting it as a true premise — and atheists say they only believe that which we have evidence for.
While I accept the spirit of this meme, I still find it the product of a simple mind concerned with winning online debates rather than seeking truth.
Atheism and the Burden of Proof
One of the most frequent statements I hear when I talk about God with atheists is that there is “no evidence” that God exists, and that is usually followed by telling me that the burden of proof is on me, the theist, because I’m the one making the positive assertion.
However, an actual atheist, as I covered yesterday, is making a positive assertion — he is positively asserting there is no God. This is framed negatively, but he isn’t withholding judgement on my assertion. He declares it false.
Withholding judgement is agnosticism — not knowing. In which case, I’m obliged to prove my case (or at least make a reasonable argument for it) for the benefit of the undecided person.
But the atheist has gone beyond withholding judgement. He’s made one of his own, and for that he owes an explanation.
Think this through:
If I say, “God exists!” Aside from, “Praise Jesus, I know he does!” there are two potential replies. (Actually, there are more, but let’s just stick with these two for simplicity sake.)
Someone might respond, “I’m not convinced.”
This is your agnostic. I should lay out my case for him. If he remains unconvinced, we can discuss the particulars. He has no specific position, so he owes me no explanation beyond what my argument lacks.
The other potential reply is: “Poppycock! There is no god, you silly Christian. Science disproves him. Besides, there was never any evidence anyway.”
This is your atheist. It is totally disingenuous for the atheist to think I’m the only one with a burden of proof here. I will still lay out my case, however he needs to both rebut my case and lay out his own — merely rebutting my case doesn’t prove anything other than I have a poor case. It only moves us to agnosticism, being unconvinced. The atheist isn’t “withholding judgement”: he’s convinced that I’m wrong. For that, he owes me an argument.
One needs nothing beyond “insufficient evidence” to withhold judgement, but the moment rejection enters the picture, a judgement has been made and a logical argument for why must be presented. Saying “I lack belief in all gods” is a total cop-out and very lazy debating.
- 8/13/12 at 1:40am EDT because there were a lot of typos. I’m ashamed of that. 1-2 is fine with me because I’m not perfect, but there were probably 4-5!
- 8/19/12 at 12:41am: Another perspective from Steve Wilkinson here.
A comment, though marked as spam, poses an interesting problem nonetheless:
Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of god and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.
I had always meant to do a post on the difference, as I see it, between atheism and agnosticism. This seems like as good a time as any.
First, does it matter that there are a plurality of conceptions of God? And I would have to say, for all practical purposes, the answer is no. Atheism, as I will show, isn’t a point of view (as supernaturalism is).
Supernatural is outside of nature. Nature is your context: the container in which you find yourself. Therefore, that which originates in this universe is natural to us. However, that which originates outside the universe is supernatural.
Flip it, and that makes us supernatural to God, since we don’t reside on the same plane of existence.
Atheism is making a claim about how things are ordered, regardless of your particular perspective.
But who (or what) is God, then? True, there have been a plurality of conceptions of God. Accepting one over another doesn’t make all of those who reject your particular deity atheists. Infidels, yes. Atheists, no.
Think of it like this: in an election, I have several candidates to choose from. The front runners are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Or I can simply abstain and not vote. The gray area is this: If I vote for Obama, does that mean I think Romney is unfit for the job?
Well, not necessarily.
There’s no meaningful way to vote against Romney without voting for Obama. So if I want to afford Obama the chance to see his economic plan through but think that Romney would do an adequate job if elected, then I’m not anti-Romney per se.
On the other hand, I may think that Romney and Obama are equally wretched as leaders and statesmen, but vote for Obama because he’s currently more experienced.
Bottom line: a vote for one is not necessarily a vote against the other.
Which is an accurate description of agnosticism. Agnostic literally means “without knowledge.” Agnostics really don’t know whether there is a god, but they remain open to finding out. While they don’t see adequate evidence for God, they find no reasons to deny the possibility of God’s existence. They don’t know.
Finally, the burning question: what is atheism? Atheism is the rejection of all God-belief. In our election example, these guys are staying home from the ballot because the actively reject both candidates.
It is not simply “lacking belief in God.” Lacking indicates they could be persuaded with the right evidence. Nothing sways most atheists. Read these comments if you don’t believe me.
Atheism is a rejection of the divine, no matter one’s conception of it. It matters not whether that divine is supernatural (as monotheism posits), or within nature (as paganism posits), or in ourselves waiting to be unleashed (as New Age theology posits). Atheism rejects it all in one fell swoop.
Tomorrow, atheism and the burden of proof. That should both be interesting, and infuriating to my atheist readers. Because, spoiler alert, you guys have a burden of proof!
Is There REALLY No Evidence for God?
I know every atheist reader is simply going to say “YES” when they read my title and move on. So be it. For those of you still here, I think that Seth Dillon of Logical Faith sums things up nicely:
Atheists . . . have adopted a naturalistic worldview, which means they believe that every event, no matter how supernatural or miraculous it may seem, can be explained without appeal to the supernatural. Thus their disbelief is not the result of a lack of evidence that God exists, but of a philosophy which, from the outset, denies the possibility of any such evidence. In other words, they’re bringing a ready-made conclusion to the evidence, rather than drawing a conclusion from it. Such backward thinking is begging the question, and is neither reasonable nor scientific.
Despite what atheists would have you believe, Christianity is a self-proclaimed evidence-based faith, with Jesus being the supreme piece of evidence.
Insomina Pays Off!
Because I couldn’t sleep, I wrote the answer to proof #11 in my newly updated response to God is Imaginary, that case study in inconsistency, incoherence, and special pleading. Insomnia has finally paid off. Enjoy!
What Type of Evidence is Required to Believe Extraordinary Claims?
How many of us have said, “I’ve been meaning to do [something], but [this] got in the way.” I’ve been guilty of that many times, especially around the house. I keep “meaning to,” but something else happens.
Wives are pretty forgiving here–or at least mine is. Provided that [this] is reasonable, and not, “I just had to beat my high score at Yahtzee, and after 10 hours of rolling those dice, I finally did it!”
Supervisors at work are much less forgiving, even if [this] is extremely reasonable. “I meant to get that paperwork faxed over, but four people called off for lunch rush and of the people that showed up, no one knew how to run the drive-thru register except for me!” Those who have worked in fast food know that what I just said is a very legitimate reason for missing office work, but they also know that no district manager would actually accept that excuse.
In the world of blogging, “I’ve been meaning to write a post on [something], but [this] got in the way” has far less severe consequences than it does in the corporate world. Usually, another blogger ends up writing the post, generally making the exact points that you would have raised. Then comes the inevitable internal groan, “Why didn’t I just write the post sooner?”
Today, as I read over the usual blogs, I discover that the post I’ve been meaning to write on the so-stupid-it-burns talking point that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” has already been written by Dr. Randal Rauser. Although I’ve disagreed with Dr. Rauser in the past, in this particular post he is 110% spot on. This paragraph sums up my own points to people about this claim:
The problem starts with this: who decides what is “extraordinary”? Without an absolute, objective standard this principle collapses into “Anything that appears really implausible to me requires extraordinary evidence” and that in turn collapses into “No evidence will be good enough to convince me of something I find really implausible”. In other words, this is a recipe for an irrational dismissal of any evidence counter to what one already accepts.
Literally, all the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” talking point ever does is allow the atheist to dismiss with a simple hand wave anything that he doesn’t want to believe–the existence of God, the Resurrection, any miracle in the Bible, or whatever else they don’t want in their worldview. All they need to do is class whatever their opponent says as “extraordinary,” and whatever evidence or argument offered in support as “not extraordinary.” BAM! Case dismissed faster than a pothead’s lawsuit on Judge Judy.
All that is required to believe any claim, extraordinary or not, is sufficient evidence. Period.
New Material Up on God is NOT Imaginary!
I announced redoing God is NOT Imaginary a long time ago, and then just sat on it. Well, I finally got back into the swing of things and have updated four proofs:
- Proof 3: Look at All Historical Gods
- Proof 4: Think About Science
- Proof 8: Think About Near Death Experiences
- Proof 28: Notice How Many Gods You Reject
Looking at my old answers to those questions, I almost cringed. I’ve certainly grown as an apologist and philosopher since I wrote those old answers. The one for proof 3, for example, was absolutely terrible. I literally proved nothing, and I certainly didn’t answer the charge put forth in the original.
My answer to proof #8 was awful as well. What I said boiled down to, “They didn’t prove anything, so neither will I! Besides, NDEs aren’t biblical, therefore I don’t have to answer for them.” Man, I was a really bad apologist for the Christian faith when I first started. I’m glad I’ve grown, and I’m glad that God has shown me that there is more to the riches of knowing him than the intellectual side of things.
I’ve also gotten better at dissecting arguments from the other side, because GII’s argument in proof 3 is totally incoherent and I didn’t notice that the first time around. And proof #8’s conclusion, “NDEs are natural occurrences, therefore there is no spiritual dimension” is just silly to even argue. I didn’t notice that, either.
Good thing I’m doing the updates! I’m going to kill the old site officially, because it is really, really, bad! I’m seriously ashamed of it.