Friday, April 25, 2014

Motives and dialogue between believers and unbelievers

Redating a post on religion and motivation.

When I was in Cambridge, Gary Habermans told me that about the first question he asked Antony Flew as Flew got off the plane from England to engage in the famous (or infamous) "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead" debate with Habermas, was whether Flew thought that everyone wants for theism to be true, and that while theists engage in wishful thinking, nonbelievers are honestly facing the truth. Flew replied that he disagreed with people like Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche in this; that he thought that both believers and unbelievers had non-rational motives for believing what they believed. Well, we know what eventually happened to Flew, but I think this is a profound recognition that people on all sides of these issues need to come to terms with. If you read Bertrand Russell's anti-religious writings, you find the following picture: believers believe for emotional reasons, such as the fear of death, the fear of hell, and the fear that the universe should be meaningless. Nonbelievers, on the other hand, have faced the fact that it is 70 years and out, they wouldn't believe unless the evidence pushed them their, since their position is so contrary to what we humans would like to be true.

Consider what how Russell defines free thought:

'The expression "Free Thought" is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. "Free Thought" means thinking freely - as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being.

The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the Free Thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things; the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man’s emancipation he deserves to be called a Free Thinker.

A man is not to be denied this title because he happens, on some point, to agree with the theologians of his country. An Arab who, starting from the first principles of human reason, is able to deduce that the Koran was not created, but existed eternally in heaven, may be counted as a Free Thinker, provided he is willing to listen to counter arguments and subject his ratiocination to critical scrutiny.

What makes a Free Thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.'
- Bertrand Russell, "The Value of Free Thought"

Notice that while Russell thinks that the class of Christian freethinkers could have members, in fact he thinks the class of actual Christian freethinkers to be empty.

I was myself at one time officially concerned in the appointment of a philosophy
professor in an important American university; all the others agreed that of course he must be a good Christian. Practically all philosophers of any intellectual eminence are openly or secretly freethinkers; the insistence on orthodoxy therefore necessitated the appointment of a nonentity or a humbug.


Couldn't they have gotten one of those Christian freethinkers? Apparently, in actuality he thought there were none. All the irrational motives are on the side of belief, all the rational motives are on the side of nonbelief.

If you defending theism and talking to someone who believes this sort of thing, I can guarantee you that it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to get anywhere. Whatever reason you give them, they are automatically going to assume that whatever "reasons" you give for the hope that is in you are not the real reasons; the real reasons are that you are afraid of death, afraid of hell, afraid that the universe should be meaningless, or maybe afraid of sex (Russell forgot that one, I have no idea why). Now there are theists would talk the same way; they think people are afraid to submit to God and are looking for any possible excuse to avoid believing.

I think that if you are in dialogue about belief and unbelief this is what you ought to get cleared up before the discussion goes any further.

Consider the following passage from C. S. Lewis: “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed” – perhaps the most reluctant convert in all of England ." Are you inclined to read this and say, naah, it couldn't be true. Lewis had to have really
wanted to believe, or he would never have been able to.

But what about unbeliever Thomas Nagel? Is he telling the truth when he says:

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper - namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. (1997)

I think it's almost impossible to get anywhere in a discussion with someone who really thinks that all the irrational motivations are on the other side. But are they all on the side of the theists. Well, let's put it this way. We know that Bertrand Russell was committing adultery at the age of 80. Wouldn't coming to accept Christianity at any point in his adult life require some, well, massive lifestyle changes? Besides, is it very pleasant to believe that there is someone who in existence who has an absolute, non-negotiable right, power, and authority to issue commandments? Did Russell really think that there was only reason underlying his unbelief, and not some very powerful non-rational motives.

Now I'm perfectly happy to see the motive arguments cancel each other out. Then we can start talking about the pros and cons of these matters with a level playing field. But if you are arguing with someone who thinks that all the irrational motives are on the other side, then you are going to face a burden of proof that will be almost impossible to overcome, unless you address the motivational issue first.

54 comments:

Joveia said...

I think that both sides have a fair amount of emotional input and bias in their views. But at the same time I don't personally think that atheists, even most of them disbelieve because of that, but because they have very solid intellectual reasons, whereas Christianity unless you get to moderate to high levels of sophistication is basically emotional.

Jason said...

Good grief--the spam is back in force. (Thought for a while it had been snuffed...)

Idea! As long as the spam looks like it's going to continue, how about dropping in a brief entry after the one you really mean to put in, as a spam-catching placeholder?

The 'bots doing this will look for the top entry, and they can plop their spam there. When you're ready to do another entry, erase the top one (culling the spam), and create a new top-floater after your actual entry.

I'll call it the Pat McManus moonshine principle. {g} (There's an amusing story behind it...)

Jason said...

Okay, now on to the actual topic.


The list of write-offs was personally amusing--I can think of one respondent, several years ago, who 'explained' my belief using every one of those (including fear of sex)... {g}


I've talked to a lot of atheists and agnostics in the past 10 years; and in my experience, the level of effectively emotional appeal is still pretty high.

That doesn't mean I think that _they_ think they don't have good reasons. But then again, I also happen to know that the sort of people commonly written off as being emotional/irrational believers _also_ think they have good reasons (though they don't always put it that way.)

I mean, God died on a cross for me--why _shouldn't_ I believe in Him? Duh!! {g}

This _is_ a reason. It may not be a _good_ reason (analytically speaking--the intent behind it may be very good, but that can be true for atheists, pagans and such as well); but it's still a reason.

Analytically, though, it is a _weak_ reason; and when people figure this out, they often try to avoid the encroaching problem of having to recognize this, by discounting 'reason' (calling it "human reason" is a popular tactic)--substituting 'faith' (by which in practice they really mean 'flat assertion', though in intent they may still mean something good like 'loyalty') instead.

It isn't any surprise that enemies to religious faith eat this up with a spoon. After all, it plays right into their hands!

But just because some popular and vocal elements of one side, insist on abusing reason (and its relation to belief and trust and trustworthiness, i.e. to faith), that doesn't mean the other side should accept the abuse as the gospel use (to blend a couple of phrases there {s}).

Jorge said...

I definitely agree with you. I think both religious individuals as well as atheists have emotional reasons for their beliefs. We can certainly say that their environment has also played a part. When I read Michael Martin's Atheism: A Philosophical Justification I was impressed by the role that his step-grandfather played in his atheism. Martin admits he was an atheist from early childhood. If a Christian said that we would say that it was their environment or family, etc. Now I have no doubt that Martin is a bright fellow but to be so certain of his atheism at such an early age? Is this the atheist equivalent of Jesus at the Temple?

A good book to read is Paul Vitz's Faith of the Fatherless. Vitz does a great role reversal on atheists.

Victor Reppert said...

There. I just went in and removed all the spam manually. I hope it stays removed.

Mike D said...

Questioning the motives of belief is pure ad hominum fallacy. Just because people have fears and their belief assuages their fear, it does not mean there faith is merely utilitarian. The truth is permitted to have psychological advantages.

Hey, Victor! See you Sunday.

Air of Winter said...

Hi. In practice, it seems to be very difficult to get anywhere in discussion with someone who thinks that one's having any emotional motive for belief falsifies the belief. It's nearly always very bad argument: in what way is 'So-and-so takes comfort in the belief in the existence of God' a defeater for 'God exists'? Then, the motives that people are apt to ascribe to their opponents are frequently things that they could know only on the basis of prolonged observation that they have not engaged in, or telepathy; and not infrequently they are wrong.

I think there is a definite place for considering motives for belief: in self-examination for bias. I am a weak atheist and a weak agnostic. I have, along with the rational reasons for holding my position, some that are based on desire and emotion; I am also aware of desires and emotions that make me wish to switch sides. So far as I am able to estimate the strength of these motives -- which isn't nearly so far as I'd like -- I think they're probably about equally balanced. I believe that this is likely to have an effect on my thinking, in that conflicting desires and emotions, and my inability to form a precise estimate of how they effect me, will tend to trap me in my current position of uncertainty even if I acquire enough information to move definitely toward either strong atheism or theism.

Steven Carr said...

Vicor writes ' Besides, is it very pleasant to believe that there is someone who in existence who has an absolute, non-negotiable right, power, and authority to issue commandments?'

Where did this come from? Who appointed God as a non-negotiable authority? I don't recall reading about that in the papers.

Victor Reppert said...

Well Steven, if you have a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, and that being says you ought to do something, then it can't be the false that you ought to do it. Because otherwise the being would by lying, or have a false belief, both incompatible with the concept of God classically conceived.

Steven Carr said...

The greayest commandment is that you should love God of your own free will.

Is the commandment to love God of your own free will a non-negotiable order from God?

Victor Reppert said...

It's something that couldn't be false if it came from God. That's what I mean.

Old joke: Clinton was ready to sign legislation to permit the nine commandments to be posted on school classroom doors. (The President has veto power, of course).

Mike D said...

I think Steven has a point that God allows himself to be resisted. In this sense, the command is negotiable in relation to whether it is obeyed or not. But Victor is correct the God's right to issue the command is not negotiable. Given His identity as Creator and Lord, He has the indisputable right to set the standard.

Air of Winter said...

I am not persuaded that an entity's having created me, or having the power to dispose of me, would confer on its commands to me the status of moral obligation.

However, if I believed an entity to be both all good and all-knowing, then I would do my best to follow its instructions, as not doing so could only lead me away from the good rather than toward it.

Steven Carr said...

It does mean that Victor should never ask God what opening to use, as he may receive a non-negotiable command to play the French, as it is the best opening.

Such advice as to the best opening could not be false if it came from God.

Victor Reppert said...

If it were true, I suppose it would help my game. As it stands, I think we can see another major disagreement between Steven and myself, as my favorite opening is no secret.

markzhang said...

"We know that Bertrand Russell was committing adultery at the age of 80. Wouldn't coming to accept Christianity at any point in his adult life require some, well, massive lifestyle changes?"

This sounds very questionable. Just because Russel was commiting adultery at the age of 80, it doesn't mean that he rejected Chrsitainity because he wanted the freedom to commit adultery.

Victor Reppert said...

What this shows isn't that he remained an unbeliever out of his desire to commit adultery. That would be to commit the ad hominem fallacy. What I said was that people like Russell have emotional motives to disbelieve as well as emotional motives to believe. The same is true of believers. The goal I am aiming at here is the canceling-out of all the motive arguments.

Ilíon said...

You also need to keep in mind that in Jewish/Christian thinking, a "commandment" is simultaneously a "blessing."

For example: "God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (New International Version, Genesis 1:28)

Ilíon said...

VR: "... The goal I am aiming at here is the canceling-out of all the motive arguments."

What!? No more "Bulverism?"

One Brow said...

Well, let's put it this way. We know that Bertrand Russell was committing adultery at the age of 80. Wouldn't coming to accept Christianity at any point in his adult life require some, well, massive lifestyle changes?
Not any branch of Christianity that I am familiar with. While they deplore sex outside marriage, they also forgive the practitioners. So, it might have required Russell to say he was sorry a lot more the behavior, but not to change the behavior itself.

philip m said...

one brow,

Wouldn't ceasing an affair be changing one's behaviour?

As for the motive thing, I have myself experienced deep instances of wanting either atheism or Christianity to be true. Wanting Christianity to be false came most when I was prideful/experiencing extreme depression ("turning off" is a desirable idea when depressed, for some reason). When I most want it to be true is when I want everything to be fair (assuming God's justice).

One Brow said...

Wouldn't ceasing an affair be changing one's behaviour?
Sure, but why would he do that just because he became a Christian?

As for the motive thing, I have myself experienced deep instances of wanting either atheism or Christianity to be true.
Personally, I'd love to be able to tell my daughters that we'll see this cat or that fish in heaven, that we'll be together forever, etc. I still miss having that belief.

One Brow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hans said...

I wonder why Habermas chose to debate a person on the resurrection who claims he is only now looking into the Christian case for the resurrection.

I wonder why Habermas chooses people who are not experts.

philip m said...

one brow,

Because it is wrong.

One Brow said...

philip m,

That is a non sequitur.

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: Well, let's put it this way. We know that Bertrand Russell was committing adultery at the age of 80. Wouldn't coming to accept Christianity at any point in his adult life require some, well, massive lifestyle changes?

One Brow: Not any branch of Christianity that I am familiar with. While they deplore sex outside marriage, they also forgive the practitioners. So, it might have required Russell to say he was sorry a lot more the behavior, but not to change the behavior itself.

Philip M: Wouldn't ceasing an affair be changing one's behaviour?

One Brow: Sure, but why would he do that just because he became a Christian?

Philip M: Because it is wrong.

One Brow: That is a non sequitur.


And people wonder why (and criticize the way) I deal with these people (the typical 'atheist' one encounters) as I do. The obtuseness we see here isn't limited to One Brow, however that it may seem especially concentrated in him.

This above exchange might as well be a textbook example of a "dialogue" between a believer and an 'atheist.' Which is to say, there is no dialogue at all. The above illustrates why you other believers (by 'other' I mean those who can't seem to grasp why I deal with the typical 'atheist' as I do) -- if you don't come to the realization that there is no point in continuing the particular "dialogue" -- so frequently become so very frustrated in these exchanges.

One Brow said...

And people wonder why (and criticize the way) I deal with these people (the typical 'atheist' one encounters) as I do. The obtuseness we see here isn't limited to One Brow, however that it may seem especially concentrated in him.
What obtuseness. As I said, and you clearly quoted, while Christians (and often atheists) deplore and speak against extra-marital sex, they nonetheless allow the practitioners thereof to be members of the congregation. There is no reason to sop having an affair just because you are a Christians, as millions of Christians prove every day.

... if you don't come to the realization that there is no point in continuing the particular "dialogue" -- so frequently become so very frustrated in these exchanges.
The source of the frustration is that I don't but into the hidden premise that people behave better when they become Christitians or that Christians behave better generally. You and philip m take that for granted, I don't.

philip m said...

One Brow,

It's not a non-sequitur, it is simply redundant. For example,

Person A: Why not do something?
Person B: Because it's wrong.
Person A: Why should I not do what's wrong?
Person A: Because something being wrong means you ought not do it. Are you asking my why you ought not do what you ought not do?

The point of being a Christian is not maintaining one's 'spot' in a congregation, it is to please and worship God. The reason one would not commit adultery as a Christian is not contingent on his or her permission to stay in their congregation. I agree with you, that would not be a very compelling reason, if that were the standard by which people regulated their behaviour ("Whatever they let me get away with while not kicking me out!")

Similarly, the failure of a Christian to follow God's laws is does not demonstrate that they have no reason to do so.

If one submits their life to Christ, it sometimes happens that they are cured instantly of their sinful habits, but in most cases it is a lifelong commitment to being sanctified. So if one is speaking in terms of people who follow Christ, connotating the way they live their life, then I definitely think that such people's behaviour's improve on such a decision. If one is merely speaking of people who call themselves 'Christians' as an identity I definitely would agree that there is no guarantee such a person would be better behaved than people who do not label themselves thus.

Veritas said...

philip m.If one is merely speaking of people who call themselves 'Christians' as an identity I definitely would agree that there is no guarantee such a person would be better behaved than people who do not label themselves thus.

Your entire response is excellent. Along with all emotions involved in debates, there are expectations (ie; our "beliefs" of what another person might be) that are present and may change at any moment. The whole idea that "Christians behave better generally" is one of these.
It is impossible not to have such thoughts in mind when we engage in discussions. However, I find it best to allow any on these to be dismissed or changed the instant I receive new information from another individual that challenges said expectation.

Summarized: We are all human, nothing needs to be tagged.

One Brow said...

It's not a non-sequitur, it is simply redundant.
It's always odd when people correct me by agreeing with me.

Similarly, the failure of a Christian to follow God's laws is does not demonstrate that they have no reason to do so.
Well, of course Russell had reasons not to be adulterous, no religious belief is required for that.

So if one is speaking in terms of people who follow Christ, connotating the way they live their life, then I definitely think that such people's behaviour's improve on such a decision.
I agree (with or without the religious aspect) that a careful consideration of one's life will often lead to what most societies consider to be moral behavior.

If one is merely speaking of people who call themselves 'Christians' as an identity I definitely would agree that there is no guarantee such a person would be better behaved than people who do not label themselves thus.
Exactly so.

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: Well, let's put it this way. We know that Bertrand Russell was committing adultery at the age of 80. Wouldn't coming to accept Christianity at any point in his adult life require some, well, massive lifestyle changes?

One Brow: Not any branch of Christianity that I am familiar with. While they deplore sex outside marriage, they also forgive the practitioners. So, it might have required Russell to say he was sorry a lot more the behavior, but not to change the behavior itself.

Philip M: "Wouldn't ceasing an affair be changing one's behaviour?"

One Brow: "Sure, but why would he do that just because he became a Christian?"

Philip M: "Because it is wrong."

One Brow: "That is a non sequitur."

Philip M: "It's not a non-sequitur, it is simply redundant."

One Brow: "It's always odd when people correct me by agreeing with me."


Perhaps OneBrow doesn't understand what the phrase 'non sequitur' means? Perhaps OneBrow doesn't understand what the term 'redundant' means? (Though, that's not really the right term here; better might have been "definitional", as in: "Definitionally, a person who becomes a Christian will repent from doing the activities which Christianity insists are wrong")

One Brow: "It's always odd when people correct me by agreeing with me."

Perhaps OneBrow is engaging in "projection?"

steve said...

BTW, Bertrand Russell's only daughter converted to Christianity. In her biography, she describes the emotional life of her famous father and how that affected his atheism. It wasn't pure logic by any means. See:

Katherine Tate. My Father, Bertrand Russell.

steve said...

I'd add, at the risk of stating the obvious, that it would be hard to find two atheists who are more emotional than Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

One Brow said...

One Brow: "It's always odd when people correct me by agreeing with me."


Perhaps OneBrow doesn't understand what the phrase 'non sequitur' means? Perhaps OneBrow doesn't understand what the term 'redundant' means?


Perhaps I was referring to the point that philip m tried to correct me from saying their is no relationship between joining Christianity and being an adulterer (thus, it is a non sequitur to assume performing the former act will entail changing the latter condition), while actually agreeing with me on this point after all.

(Though, that's not really the right term here; better might have been "definitional", as in: "Definitionally, a person who becomes a Christian will repent from doing the activities which Christianity insists are wrong")
I don't think you'll find any dictionaries with that definition.

One Brow: "It's always odd when people correct me by agreeing with me."

Perhaps OneBrow is engaging in "projection?"

While anything's possible, it seems unlikely here.

philip m said...

One Brow,

I think there was a disconnect in our understanding, since it seemed to me you were claiming that upon becoming a Christian Russell would have no reason for ceasing his affair. But clearly he would have a reason, the reason being that it is wrong to commit adultery according to God's laws. So there is a reason.

I drew that you were claiming that from this:

philip m: Wouldn't ceasing an affair be changing one's behaviour?
One Brow: Sure, but why would he do that just because he became a Christian?


However, it seems now not that you were claiming that Christians have no reason to abstain from committing adultery, just that even if they have a reason on the whole they aren't compelled by it much to change their behaviour (judging from those who call themselves Christians). Here I will draw our agreement to the point where I think it is quite clear that just about anyone can paste the label 'Christian' on their forehead and still have nothing to do with God or his Son.

There are many important distinguishing signs, though, that someone has genuinely accepted Christ into their life: the cessation of sin in their life through the work of the Holy Spirit is primary. Jesus says his followers will be known by their love, Paul explains what fruit the Spirit will bear in people's lives, and John writes that no one who lives in Jesus will keep on sinning (in a deliberate, unguilty sense).

Assuming the genuineness of his repentance, I think this is why Victor said that Russell would have to upheave his lifestyle and start living another way; assuming (important), of course, that his repentance was authentic. Genuine repentance would have to take these sorts of claims the New Testament makes seriously, and that would require major change.

One Brow said...

But clearly he would have a reason, the reason being that it is wrong to commit adultery according to God's laws. So there is a reason.
I have a better than a dozen reasons for not having an affair, none of which involve God, much less the questionable way mainstream religions have interpreted what adultery supposedly is.

There are many important distinguishing signs, though, that someone has genuinely accepted Christ into their life: the cessation of sin in their life through the work of the Holy Spirit is primary.
I'm not sure if you're using a version of No True Scotsman, or if you are unware that many people who seem to genuinely accept Christ nonetheless continue unacceptable (to their understanding of the demands of the Bible) behaviors.

Assuming the genuineness of his repentance, I think this is why Victor said that Russell would have to upheave his lifestyle and start living another way; assuming (important), of course, that his repentance was authentic. Genuine repentance would have to take these sorts of claims the New Testament makes seriously, and that would require major change.
Or major rationalization, also commonly found. For example, you can make a very sound argument, based on the Bible and the culture from which it came, that the only sort of adulterous behavior is to have sex with a man's wife against his expressed disapproval. No behavioral change needed.

planks length said...

It would be foolish to deny that some believers are what they are from emotional reasons (and, by the way, I see nothing wrong with that). But the same holds true for atheists. I have yet to meet one, either in person or over the internet, who was not an atheist for non-rational reasons, as well as any "rational" ones they may claim. Hatred of organized religion, unresolved issues from childhood, a feeling that the universe has been unfair to them, a desire to seem "cool" or modern, resentment over a family tragedy, the bad example of some believers, a desire to not be accountable for one's actions, fear of there being a Judgement, antisemitism, fear of being thought a rube or a hick, intellectual snobbery, peer pressure, cultural pressure... all of these plus many others are common, non-rational motivations for being an atheist.

So let's all just admit that we are all of us human beings who think, feel, emote, bleed, and reason, regardless of our belief or unbelief, and move on from there.

im-skeptical said...

plank,

It is perfectly reasonable to agree that we all have irrational motivations. But the reasons you attribute to atheists for their non-belief are just plain laughable.

planks length said...

"just plain laughable"

No more than the faux emotions I've noted you attributing to believers in your postings - truly 180 degrees off the mark. No resemblance whatsoever to reality.

planks length said...

HERE is a link to an interesting review of a newly published book by a former atheist that attributes atheism to emotional causes.

im-skeptical said...

Here's a real reason for you: Evidence.

planks length said...

Oh, wow! You have evidence for atheism?!?!? Please, let's hear it.

((crickets))

Dan Gillson said...

This is one of my favorite posts on the nature of evidence. My favorite part is this:

“Scipio,” I said. “Would you agree with me that this cup is empty?”

“Yes,” he said cautiously. “I think we might agree on that.”

“Not so fast. What persuades you?”

He hated this game. We have played it for years, sometimes several times a day. “Our agreement or something else?”

“The evidence is the emptiness of the cup. Our agreement is simply a result of our examination of the evidence, an assessment.”

But there is no evidence,” I said playfully. “There is only an empty cup. You’re sounding like a theologian: you believe “in all that is visible and invisible?”

I bolded the relevant portion. Read the whole thing. If anything it's quite funny.

planks length said...

I read the story, Dan, but I don't get it. Is the writer saying that evidence is equivalent to "Like, duh. Because." and that all the atheist has to say is "There's no God because I say so"???

Dan Gillson said...

Not at all, PL. The writer is saying that the evidence for the existence or inexistence of God is just a reaffirmation of the original proposition: God exists or doesn’t. If the proposition is that God exists , then the evidence is the existence of God. It’s the same thing for the the proposition that God doesn’t exist, mutatis mutandis. The point of the parable is that atheists like Skep and Linton are just as wrong-headed as apologists like Josh McDowell: there is no evidence, just the world and our experience of it.

im-skeptical said...

Evidence goes far beyond the question of whether we can see a God. (We can't.) How about the attributes that theists assign to their God? Do we see evidence of benevolence? With all the suffering in the world, I'd say no. Do we see evidence of purpose? Evolution is powerful evidence against purpose.

I think when you look at the totality of what is observable, there are plenty of things that point away from anything like the kind of God theists claim.

William said...

The whole "lack of evidence is evidence of absence" argument seems to come up repeatedly in arguments about varied topics, like God, missing intermediate forms in evolution, and even SETI.

What is IMHO clear is that our agreement or disagreement with the "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" principle is almost always biased by what we already believe.

See for example here, recently.

Papalinton said...

Dan: "The point of the parable is that atheists like Skep and Linton are just as wrong-headed as apologists like Josh McDowell: there is no evidence, just the world and our experience of it."

You don't include yourself in the list, being a declared atheist yourself, as I remember in earlier conversation with you.

In my defense I don't think I have called for evidence of the existence of God [Correct me if I have I have said otherwise]. I pretty much subscribe to Hitchens maxim, "“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

In point of fact I think even atheists give too much credence to the concept of 'God', being as it surely is a non-existent entity. In all future comments this existent non-existent entity will be referred to as GOB, D B Hart's amorphous philosophical construct.

Karl Grant said...

William,

What do you think about Jim Bell's recent opinion piece in CNN in regards to Fermi's Paradox?

Karl Grant said...

Paps,

I pretty much subscribe to Hitchens maxim, "“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

Ah, than you should have no problem with us dismissing atheism without evidence than.

Oh, and on a side note, I'll make you a little deal. You don't make any more snide remarks about my family (like implying my mom is incompetent at her job and deserves to be fired or calling my dad an inbred hick) I won't make any snide remarks about your family (like calling your granddaughter dumb as a bunch of rocks or your wife a blind retarded bitch). And don't play innocent, because I will link to the posts you made those comments in. Sound good?

William said...

Karl,



I discussed the Fermi problem with one of the Keck telescope system astronomers about 2 months ago. She thinks that radio signals are a very poor way of finding life on other planets in the galaxy. Too many light years away, and not enough signal.

As for Jim Bell's article you reference, I don't think it addresses the Fermi paradox much. Consider that the Drake equation is the product of 10 factors, all between 0 and 1 in value, and the finding of planets in positions similar to Earth covers only 2 of the constants.

I think the experts think that there is still too much unknown to speculate on other civilizations in the galaxy, even if things are narrowed down a little bit.

B. Prokop said...

I've been a huge skeptic for some time now concerning the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence elsewhere in the Milky Way. (I refuse to even speculate about its prospects outside of our own galaxy) My views on the subject can be seen here, on this astronomy club website. In fact, in the year or so since those comments were published, my pessimism has grown (in light of the Kepler data on exoplanets, showing how rare a solar system like ours must be in the universe).

im-skeptical said...

I think it would be rash to speculate that there must be millions of instances of intelligent life evolving on other planets somewhere. We really don't know how likely or unlikely it is. At the same time, our own knowledge of what's out there is minimal. If there were some other civilizations in the far reaches of our galaxy, would we know about them? There's no law of nature that says they must have colonized the entire galaxy by now. And even if they actually did move beyond the confines of their own solar system, there's no guarantee that we would be able to detect them. If they established outposts at distances of 1000 light years from our own planet, would we be able to see them? Perhaps if we spend centuries searching for them, or if we develop better technology, we might come across something. But we haven't done that. Yet.