Amazon.com Widgets

« Links With Your Coffee - Sunday | Main | Jelly Side Down »

Teapot Atheists

Richard Dawkins is right. In practice we are all teapot atheists. Don at The Satirical Politcal Report has an Amen for the Atheists I'm sure you'll find entertaining.

Quicktime Video 1.74MB 1'52
Quicktime 7 required


 

Comments

Thank you for "Teapot Atheists" and for "If You Don't Like It". Both are excellent. For anyone interested in exploring the history of atheism in America I strongly recommend the 2004 book "Freethinkers" by Susan Jacoby.

Bow down to Rah or face eternal damnation. I'd like to see what a catholic has to say about this.

OH Dawkins, why can't we have an American one to?

I'm agnostic, not atheist. Let me try to explain my reasons why. It's not that I'm waiting for "proof" of a god. I'm not sitting on the fence. What separates me from an atheist is that I have observed the thread of spirituality that runs through all human cultures. It is basic to society. Something so intrinsic to our identities is important, and I feel should not be dismissed as complete folly. The forces in the universe are not conscious and omniscient beings, but the need to explain and give meaning to them is part of the fabric of humanity and so should be valued. I do not defend the actions of zealots or think that any religion is greater or lesser then another. I just think religion serves a purpose and is therefore valid.

Atheists really need a better spokesman than Dawkins. As usual, he tries to pass off his own bias as logic that (naturally) applies to everyone:

Russell never used the term 'teapot atheist' and never suggested that his teapot scenario was in itself evidence for atheism (as Dawkins does). The scenario was meant first to illustrate a point of logic (that in a logical argument, the burden of proof lies with the person putting forth a supposition) and second to show that established dogma has a great deal of misplaced sway among the populace (a social phenomenon).

The teapot analogy makes a fine point for agnosticism, but Dawkins moves ahead with "Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I can't disprove it.'" and then dismisses the (logical) agnostic conclusion by labeling it as something one would only 'technically' or 'strictly' hold.

Actually, I thought an open mind was exactly what objective dispassionate science was supposed to be about. If Dawkins isn't prepared to believe anything he can't disprove, then he has no business passing himself off as a scientist.

I'm prepared to believe anything that can't be disproven. The line between 'believe' and 'prepared to believe' could not be more crucial, Dawkins' dismissal notwithstanding. He fails to recognize (or more likely, ignores) the idea that faith in God isn't something that most people have because of logical evidence (which is why it's faith), and that (most) people don't use the inability to disprove the existence of god as evidence - they use it to respond to those people who demand proof of something unprovable in the first place.

I tend to agree somewhat with Kevin but am a bit thrown by Elizebeth. In the context of onegoodmove and the various posts from Dawkins, my only thought would be: there's nothing wrong with religion - but there is something terribly wrong with people, especially western culture (which I am part of). I used to think I was agnostic, but then I quickly realized that I just hated everything authoritative and patriarchal. Now that I'm "older" and am still struggling to make something of this life, I find it hard to believe that, even without proof or seeing the tea pot, there is nothing responsible for all of this - whether it's the wondrous effort by Norm, the miracle that sustains Apple computer (after I gave up on them and now HAVE to use PCs), or the magnificence of all the ignorance that rules our western lifestyle. Yeah, it’s like saying that the gun is the problem. -tgs-

It's not complicated. He acknowledges agnosticism, but makes the valid point that there are many things we can't prove that they are so unlikely that we say we don't believe in them. Kevin do you claim to be agnostic on everything you can't prove, or do you like most people say I don't believe that? Dawkins not only doesn't ignore the reason that people believe is faith he makes the point that faith, belief without evidence, is a poor standard for believing anything. The atheist doesn't demand proof, they ask the question why do you believe, and it is the religious who feel uncomfortable believing something for which they are unable to provide credible evidence for and so make foolish attempts at providing proof. They apparently don't like saying, oh just because I do, or it makes me feel good. Why do you believe Kevin, if you do?

I am an atheist for one simply reason, and it beats interplanetary teapots. While it is, perhaps, depending on the distance from Earth or another civilization, possible to have a teapot floating in space, it is impossible to have any definitionally self-contradictory thing, such as, to use the most common examples, a square circle or married bachelor.

As an addendum, I also cannot write correct grammar when in a hurry!

But who made the teapot and put it into orbit? Isn't that the real question? ;^)

There is an excerpt from an essay called “The Church of Theists Suck” written by Charlotte Schnook that I admire and I’d like to share with you: http://www.evilbible.com/whyiamnota_christian.htm

Let me add,

The teapot analogy makes a fine point for agnosticism, but Dawkins moves ahead with "Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I can't disprove it.'" and then dismisses the (logical) agnostic conclusion by labeling it as something one would only 'technically' or 'strictly' hold.

Dawkins does not dismiss the logical agnostic conclusion. He just makes the point that there are some things so unlikely that as a practical matter we say we don't believe, rather than the I'm agnostic on that issue.

Actually, I thought an open mind was exactly what objective dispassionate science was supposed to be about. If Dawkins isn't prepared to believe anything he can't disprove, then he has no business passing himself off as a scientist.

I don't know how you draw this conclusion from what he said, would you please explain. Scientists often say they believe something true based on existing evidence. If new evidence is discovered that brings the belief into question they simply change their belief

Some atheists treat atheism as a belief-system. Some atheists believe that no god exists (hard Atheism), others have no beliefs about the existence or non-existence of god (agnostic atheism). This presents a problem with the term "atheism" because it has several meanings. For these reasons, and more, I do not use the term. 'Non-believer,' on the other hand, not only covers atheism but all forms of superstitions (and, in fact, all beliefs).

Given that even some proclaimed Atheists, like Brian Flemming, admit to not liking the usage of labels, why not simply use the descriptive term non-believer instead of variable meaning words like atheist, or the limited-to-theology term, non-theist? Non-belief covers not only, non-theism, but non-ufoism, non-superstitious, and many other non-beliefs that surely most atheists have no beliefs in at all. One can own no beliefs about anything while still having thoughts about anything. Provisional knowledge trumps belief in every case, it seems to me.

There simply is no reason to own any beliefs at all. I present a very simple observation at the limits of ignorance and knowledge: If you don't know about something and you submit it to nothing but belief, it will likely prove false; if you know about something, then you don't need to believe it, because you know it. Between ignorance and knowledge you have the uncertainties about the world, and the best way to handle uncertainties involves thinking in terms of probabilities. So what use does belief have?

Instead of owning beliefs, we can utilize hypothesis, theory, and models to make predictions about things in the world.

Either I don't know, I have a guess (a hypothesis), or I know (with relatively high probability). Nowhere do I require the ownership of a belief or absolutes (and if you think about it, only a believer could pretend to know about absolutes, something not even in principle testable for mortal humans). If you know something, there is just no reason to believe in it.

To add to the above comment I submitted,

Scientists often say they believe something true based on existing evidence.

True, however, science describes a method for understanding the nature of the universe, not a belief-system. Science does not require beliefs at all. However, it does require observation, reason, hypotheses, experimentation, theory, and facts in order to produce knowledge about the universe. Of course some scientists do believe their theories, but it has no requirement at all.

Yes science produces confidence because the repeatability of the tests confirm a hypothesis (probability). Thinking in terms of probabilities allow scientists to make reliable (but not absolute) predictions about the world, all without requiring beliefs. For example, I don't have to test every day the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. I know this because we have a record of reliable scientific observation that makes this prediction.

...there are many things we can't prove that they are so unlikely that we say we don't believe in them. Kevin do you claim to be agnostic on everything you can't prove, or do you like most people say I don't believe that?

Certainly I've used the phrase, "I don't believe..." in this case (like most people), but for the opposite reason that Dawkins implies. When I've said it (in this case) it's only as a verbal convenience, because it's too cumbersome in casual conversation to say, "I have no belief on X because I don't believe there's sufficient evidence...". I would most certainly describe myself as agnostic on almost any claim for which I didn't have sufficient proof.

faith, belief without evidence, is a poor standard for believing anything.

Perhaps, but it's the only other game in town. A person who refuses to believe in absolutely anything has a strong logical foundation to be sure. I'm just not entirely convinced that such a human animal truly exists (though I know some people strive for that type of clarity). Personally, I have a hard time believing that even the most logical, critical-thinking person alive doesn't have an unprovable belief lurking around in their head somewhere (whether they are fully aware of it or not). And of course, no one can empirically prove that they have such clarity of thought in any case. :)

The atheist doesn't demand proof

Ha. And the believer doesn't foist their beliefs on others. Some self-proclaimed atheists most certainly do. But I'll grant that the ones I prefer to converse with don't (though like the obnoxious believers, the ones demanding proof often seem the loudest).

they ask the question why do you believe, and it is the religious who feel uncomfortable believing something for which they are unable to provide credible evidence for and so make foolish attempts at providing proof.

Again, I think that's painting people with far too broad a brush. I know (many) atheists like to poke fun at the religious people who try to prove the existence of God (as do I). Most religious people I know wouldn't ever try. More often, I've seen the reverse - people asking me to provide proof of God.

They apparently don't like saying, oh just because I do, or it makes me feel good. Why do you believe Kevin, if you do?

I do, but in a pretty vague sense. My belief is a combination of my gut, personal experiences, as well as my observation of the history of faith itself. Ultimately, the idea of a God (who clearly chooses not to allow his existence to be logically proven) just winds up seeming to fit the big puzzle better than the vast number of (totally plausible) assumptions I have to make to believe that the history of faith in human history is the result of a series of self-delusions.

Actually, I thought an open mind was exactly what objective dispassionate science was supposed to be about. If Dawkins isn't prepared to believe anything he can't disprove, then he has no business passing himself off as a scientist.
I don't know how you draw this conclusion from what he said, would you please explain. Scientists often say they believe something true based on existing evidence. If new evidence is discovered that brings the belief into question they simply change their belief

Dawkins: "Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I can't disprove it.'"

That statement, to me, indicates a clear bias and a closed mind. I would easily say I'm prepared to believe in the teapot, and I don't believe I am a lunatic. 500 years ago, a similar statement might be: "Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe the earth revolves around the sun because I can't disprove it.'"

To dismiss an idea as lunacy, solely because it feels like lunacy to you, and despite the fact that you have no objective reason to treat it as anything other than an unproven supposition, is not a quality I look for in a scientist.

Tommi, what threw you about my post? I would be happy to explain myself.

Norm, I can't play the video clip for some reason, usually I have no problem. Do you have a link? I'd like to view it so I can appreciate the discussion better.

Atheists have a better understanding of God than Jews and especially Christians.

My Koan for today.

While the "God fearing" right wing is busy killing things, it is; in the end, the Athiest; who is the peaceful rational humanitarian....

This: "While the "God fearing" right wing is busy killing things, it is; in the end, the Athiest; who is the peaceful rational humanitarian...."

Reminds me of this: http://brentrasmussen.com/log/pitythepoor_atheist

It's his least extravagant appearance on TV I've seen for a while, but Dawkins continues to use logical arguments that should be obviously biased to even a casual observer.

He begins by arguing that there are a million things that we can't disprove, without mentioning that there are also a million things we can't prove. I'm not going to question how rigourous a proof we're discussing.

He actually gives a reasonable summation of Russell's arguments (the one I find most convincing is that I would find believing in the Ancient Greek Gods quite difficult), but I do take issue with his statement that "Nobody but a lunatic would say i'm prepared to believe in the teapot because i can't disprove it".

I can't imagine many believers in a deity would say that they're prepared to believe in something until someone proves that it can't exist.

His use of the word lunatic also doesn't belong in his argument, as he has absolutely nothing to back it up with other than his own bias (which I'm guessing is based upon his own belief, and certianly not on rigourous scientific observation).

What's annoying is that my logic comes to the same conclusion - if 'lunatics' are considered to be people who don't believe the same things as the mainstream, then they probably would say that they'd believe in something just because it can't be proven not to exist. The trouble is this is not the point he's arguing. What he actually implies is that people who believe in something unprovable are lunatics, which is a completely different statement.

I was an atheist when I was growing up, until I realised it doesn't bother me whether people believe in a God or not. Now my belief's probably reside with Kevin or Elizabeth's. In terms of personally wanting proof from the world, I'm a mathematician so I'm more aggrieved by a poor argument than a lack of physical evidence.

"I would easily say I'm prepared to believe in the teapot"

Really, well okay? I'll tell you though someone comes up to me and tells me they believe in teapots circling the sun. I'm going to think they're fucking nuts. You're kidding right, there certainly are objective reasons to dismiss the idea of a teapot circling the sun?

Norm, Mr. editor and narrator, Dear Compatriot.

There is a teapot circling the sun. Louis Armstrong put it there when he played his trumpet on the moon.

I think there are two things: the existence of God and the need to believe in existence of God.

Atheists can argue that God doesn't exist and poke loopholes in the belief system of believers but the need for God exists in society. Some people can go on without that belief but most can't.

For example, most people believe that they are better than average person. If we don't believe in that we won't be able to get out of bed and continue their lives. We will be miserable with out that belief. So that belief is needed whether it is true or not.

It is same with God, the belief in God is needed and without it most people find it hard to lead their lives. So when such people are confronted with the possibility that there is no life, their whole system on which they built their life, thoughts will collapse and they can't accept that.

I myself am agnositc (I know (hard) atheists laught at that). I have seen quite a nnumber of people that were agnostics/atheists become believers in some God or the others because they needed emotional support because of difficulties in understanding their life/society as they age.

As far I am concerned there are problems with the whole argument to begin with. Logic at the level we have in western culture has to be taught (or not in some cases) so it isn't exactly innate or infallible. So while most logic would dictate not seeing any reasonable explanation for a teapot in space, you would not necessarily have that point of view if you hadn't been exposed to this kind of logical thinking. Animals certainly function fine without it. What I mean is it isn't absolute. But that is, to me, not the real issue at hand.

It seems to me that the ABSOLUTELY important part of the religion/atheism debate is how we want to govern our society. That's, in essence, the clincher. I see more advantages in a religious-doctrine-free run society than the one we have. I don't really mind what other people believe as their gods and frankly very few of them are likely to be swayed by any logical argument I may put forth. But I don't think their beliefs bind/make sense for the majority in terms of law etc...That's my opinion. I really do think an open religious education like Dennett suggests would take care of a lot of that.

There are a lot of things I am prepared to believe or not. To me the question is whether I choose to or not. If that helps me live a strong life then so be it. It has little to do with whether it is "right" or "true". Beliefs to me are like socks in a drawer. When they have too many holes or they don't fit like they used to, I scrap them. And I don't make others wear them. When it comes down to it, I can only be responsible for my own beliefs. Having a liberal varied education, being exposed to many things, hearing different views etc.. is what really helps. That is what we need so people can make more informed choices (and that is all you can ask for). To me, that is what is lacking in societies. The rest of the atheism vs religion, proof vs belief discussion is, in and of itself, like chasing your own tail - fun, interesting, yet tiring after a while but ultimately pointless.

So is that a Wedgewood teapot?

user-pic

Dawkins has strained this analogy too far. He implies that religions are just arbitrary declarations equal to the statement "there exists a teapot...". However, each religion comes with a set of evidence, historical, literary, personal, etc. that has no analog in the teapot analogy.

I don't refute the basic idea that lack of evidence is not a form of proof.

On another note - I think we all have beliefs that are either unfounded on or uncreated by evidence. For example, do you believe that all adults should have an equal vote in our government (excluding possibly the profoundly mentally ill, etc)? Do you believe it is wrong to take from others when they could not hurt you back? Where are the rational/evidence-based supports for these?

(and to head off any concern at the pass - i don't believe that atheists need religion to be moral)

Really, well okay? I'll tell you though someone comes up to me and tells me they believe in teapots circling the sun. I'm going to think they're fucking nuts. You're kidding right, there certainly are objective reasons to dismiss the idea of a teapot circling the sun?

Two things:

1) I said I'd be prepared to believe, not that I would believe. This was my complaint with Dawkins' comment, "Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I can't disprove it.'"

A rational scientist should be prepared to believe anything that can't be disproven, or he's biased. If we're going strictly with logic, then absent proof to the contrary, it's possible. Not likely, not probable, but possible. The truly dispassionate rationalist wouldn't see it any other way.

2) There are few objective reasons to think there might be a teapot is circling the sun (absent any additional information as to why there would be one). A much stronger case can be made as to why there might be a God. Certainly no more conclusive, but inarguably more data exists to support God's existence than the teapot's (absent the secret, classified report indicating the US/Soviet race to be first to put a teapot in Solar orbit).

This is a poor argument frequently used on the atheist side. The concept of God did not just spring into one man's head overnight. There is a tremendous of recorded history and branches of philosophy that supports the notion of a God. None of it is remotely conclusive, which is why I maintain the position that it's not a scientific question - I don't think it's provable. But to compare the notion of God with the notion of the teapot (in one sense) requires one to ignore more written & oral history than has been recorded on quite possibly any other single topic in the history of humankind.

I'm 100% prepared to to believe there is no God. But any rational person has to admit that the concept of God is very different that the teapot (and similar analogies) because there are few (if any) examples in human history of a single unprovable belief held so widely throughout history. Billions of people holding a unprovable belief over thousands of years does not make it right. But it is evidence that that belief is in some way different than a random unprovable belief plucked from a hat, so to speak.

I used to believe in god I do not anymore.. It took some adjustment, no afterlife, everyone that has died, your friends, family, lovers that have died, well they are just dead. Really its okay it lends an immediacy to your life. Existance in the now, this life is all there is. Really, you can believe anything you want. Just do not assume I want to pray with you in a cafe! Or that its okay that people should die for your god. Really those are my only rules, for now anyway.

It is an argument from ignorance to say that God either exists or does not exist.

Only an agnostic is really being honest.

An Athiest is just another person among many making unprovable assertions.

What about the inside of a brick? Does that exist? No-one has ever seen it...

Not to say, of course, that I ought to believe in god because I believe in the inside of a brick; I don't. but I think a more discerning epistemology is needed than Dawkin's. There are plenty of things we have never observed -- and which we needn't even necessarily use to explain what we do observe -- but that we still believe 'exist'. In fact, many philosophers don't even think 'existence' ought to qualify as a meaningul predicate anymore.

So there.

Religion is inevitable. I think that any emerging intelligent races will look for a reason for existence. God is the easy answer. When a race is intelligent enough to question 'why?' but can't answer 'how?', religion is the result.
How do you think a cave man would respond to lightning or earthquakes? An immediate belief in magic is evoked.

I think all civilizations in the universe go through the religious phase. The question is, how many survive religion to become very advanced by our standards?

It seems like any explanatory system, whether scientific or purely philosophical (for the present purpose I'll consider religious explanation as philosophical, insofar as it is intellectually rigorous) relies on a certain core set of unprovable assumptions. Which system should be given preference is a function of the simplicity and elegance of those assumptions. One should try to find evidence for as much as possible, and only insert the most streamlined necessary set of assumptions to cover the rest.

The scientific view of the origin of the universe posits a Big Bang event. This is not the assumption, however -- there is a great deal of observable data that supports such a hypothesis, which is why it has been elevated to the status of theory. As far as I know, no one has any idea why there should have been a big bang. Science remains agnostic on that question.

Some versions of theism suppose that a deity created the universe much as it is now. These views are in contradiction with the Big Bang theory (and in varying degrees with the theory of evolution as well). Based on the criterion suggested above, these explanations do a good job of explaining phenomena, but ultimately fail because the necessary assumptions are overreaching, and provide axioms for phenomena for which other explanations have observable evidence.

Another version of theism is completely compatible with the Big Bang and with evolution -- essentially that of Deism, which supposes that a god created the initial state of the universe, as well as the laws of physics, and then left it to its own devices. This view can be made to seem much like the former variety of theism if it is supposed that the deity lies outside time and foresaw the entire course of events that led to the current state of the universe (and beyond). This version is probably inconsistent with the idea of free will, but let's leave that alone for now. This sort of explanation accounts for a great deal of phenomena, and furthermore does not overjustify phenomena for which there is evidence.

What is the alternative to deism? We could simply say that any conventional notion of causality breaks down at the beginning of the universe, because any conventional notion of time breaks down, and time is necessary for causation. Given what I understand about physics, and the interdependence of space, time and matter, this does not seem like an outlandish assumption (though any physics experts should step in and comment, because I certainly am not one). So on this view, there is no need to determine the cause of the big bang -- indeed it is impossible to do so.

So having eliminated what I'll call "strong creationism" -- the notion that the universe was willed into being as is by a creator -- on the grounds that it vastly overjustifies explainable phenomena, we are left with two possibilities: "weak creationism", or deism, and atheism. Which is to be preferred?

On their face, both systems seem equally explanatory, and neither overjustifies. The difference is that deism provides a creator as the cause of the big bang, while the version of atheism I discuss here simply abolishes causation at the big bang, on the grounds that time ceases to have meaning. However, deism must also abolish causation in order to avoid providing for the origin of the deity, and so in some sense it makes all the assumptions of the atheist position, plus one.

On this basis, I'd argue that atheism is the more elegant explanation, as it makes one fewer assumption than deism.

So although it is certainly possible that weak, or even strong creationism is correct, we should not adopt either one, absent evidence that conclusively requires us to make their extra necessary assumptions.

Thoughts?

Kevin said: "500 years ago, a similar statement might be: "Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe the earth revolves around the sun because I can't disprove it.'"" (sorry for the messy quote-nesting)

I submit that yes, to say that one was prepared to believe that the earth revolves around the sun simply because one couldn't disprove it would have been lunacy, were there a simpler explanation (though I suppose a similar statement about the moon would be lunacy moreso -- ha, ha, ahem.)

Equally lunatic would be to assume that the sun revolved around the earth simply because that (at the time) could not be disproven, if there were a more elegant explanation.

In the absence of a single bit of evidence favoring one argument over the other, both seem consistent with the observation that the sun appears to move in the sky, and if no other celestial bodies are taken into account, both explanations are equally parsimonious (and in fact entirely indistinguishable without a reference point). Once one tries to account for the other bodies (planets, stars, etc.), however, the helicentric view becomes immediately simpler, and therefore preferable.

If one has never considered a heliocentric view, the geocentric view was perfectly reasonable, as it appeared consistent with evidence, and so to believe it was not lunacy. Even today, if one has never heard of the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, one would not be a lunatic to conclude the opposite. Lunacy only enters into the picture when one adopts an unnecessarily complex view after one has been made aware of a superior alternative.

The point (and I'd venture this is what Dawkins was getting at too) is that whether a belief is lunacy or not has nothing to do with whether it is in fact true, but whether it can be justified, and is not demonstrably inferior to a considered alternative.

Perhaps the point about belief versus preparation to believe is important though. I certainly do not want to suggest that subscribing to one system is to deny the possibility of an alternative. One should be prepared to believe anything, should new evidence come along. It's just a question of what assumptions one operates with, given the evidence that's already available.

Religion is inevitable...God is the easy answer. When a race is intelligent enough to question 'why?' but can't answer 'how?', religion is the result...How do you think a cave man would respond to lightning or earthquakes? An immediate belief in magic is evoked.

Entirely possible. However, we have only have our planet to use as a sample set. And since the existence of an actual God would also explain the phenomenon of religion, it ultimately just winds up like all the other 'God or Not' arguments - unprovable.

The day someone can't come up with a viable alternative explanation for religious phenomenon is the day I'll start believing a logical case can be made to 'prove' God. But I don't expect that will happen, any more than I expect someone to come up with a logical proof against.

The point (and I'd venture this is what Dawkins was getting at too) is that whether a belief is lunacy or not has nothing to do with whether it is in fact true, but whether it can be justified, and is not demonstrably inferior to a considered alternative.

Well, I don't think that was Dawkins' point, but more important was his statement that nobody but a lunatic would be 'prepared to believe...', not that only a lunatic would believe.

In either case the word 'lunatic' is too strong, and Dawkins' use of a strong term like lunatic is meant to show the incredulity one must obviously feel at so ridiculous a supposition. An emotional ploy, not a rational argument.

I wouldn't call someone a lunatic unless they claimed belief in something demonstrably false, or demonstrated an inability to acknowledge the relative weight of arguments for and against something. To one of Norm's earlier points, the question is, 'Why do they believe that?' If someone believes in teapots orbiting the sun, and they demonstrate a grasp of what that scenario entails, and can provide a plausible (however unprovable) series of events leading to that result, then I wouldn't label them a lunatic (nor anyone else who was willing to accept the possibility they put forth).

Some people of faith meet the 'lunatic' criteria (and I'll be the first to label them as such) but that doesn't mean that a belief in God necessarily does.

Kevin, I don't think any of us disagrees with your assertion that neither the existence or nonexistence of a god is ultimately, conclusively provable. I take Red's point to be that the ubiquity of religion is not actually evidence for a god, not that alternative explanations of religion are proof of the nonexistence of a god.

Not to sound like a broken record, but while it's true that the existence of an actual God would explain the phenomenon of religion (as well as a great deal of other things), choosing to believe that that is the reason religion exists is to make an assumption that is entirely independent of everything for which there is evidence, while choosing to believe something like Red's alternative is to make a hypothesis that is connected with a host of evidence about psychology and anthropology.

Integration of assumptions with things that are more or less proven is as important as avoiding them entirely when possible. That's similar to the idea of overjustification I brought up above.

Okay, granted lunatic might be too strong. And you're right, belief in God does not make you a lunatic, nor does it even make you as irrational as someone who believes in a teapot satellite for no reason. That is, provided the reason you believe in God is due to a lack of understanding or ignorance of the science that makes parsimonious alternatives to God viable.

The only person I would call irrational (or whatever term you prefer) is the one who continues to believe in God even though s/he has a complete understanding of the scientific evidence available for evolution and the big bang. Maybe that's what you mean by "inability to acknowledge the relative weight of arguments for and against something".

Even believing in something demonstrably false doesn't make you irrational, unless it's demonstrably false using only the evidence you have available to you.

Again, I tend to agree that Dawkins's use of "is prepared to believe" is probably better replaced by "chooses to believe".

while it's true that the existence of an actual God would explain the phenomenon of religion (as well as a great deal of other things), choosing to believe that that is the reason religion exists is to make an assumption that is entirely independent of everything for which there is evidence, while choosing to believe something like Red's alternative is to make a hypothesis that is connected with a host of evidence about psychology and anthropology.

Okay, now I'm liking this discussion. There's truth in what you say, but I think you're coming at it from the wrong direction. Religion asserts the existence of a God first, so you can't really evaluate the 'truth' of religion by itself - it has to be in the context of God's existence. If a supposition about God is that his existence can not be proven, then the existence of evidence for the alternative view (psychology and anthropology can explain religion) is valid, but doesn't carry any more weight than the alternative.

The idea that ample vs. limited evidence makes a stronger case for that which there is ample evidence for only works when your beginning supposition is that the two possibilities both have equal ability to be proven in the first place.

If you assume that one of the two possibilities preclude the existence of much (or any) evidence, then the lack of such evidence doesn't have the same impact as in a case where no such assumption is made.

while it's true that the existence of an actual God would explain the phenomenon of religion (as well as a great deal of other things), choosing to believe that that is the reason religion exists is to make an assumption that is entirely independent of everything for which there is evidence, while choosing to believe something like Red's alternative is to make a hypothesis that is connected with a host of evidence about psychology and anthropology.

Okay, now I'm liking this discussion. There's truth in what you say, but I think you're coming at it from the wrong direction. Religion asserts the existence of a God first, so you can't really evaluate the 'truth' of religion by itself - it has to be in the context of God's existence. If a supposition about God is that his existence can not be proven, then the existence of evidence for the alternative view (psychology and anthropology can explain religion) is valid, but doesn't carry any more weight than the alternative.

The idea that ample vs. limited evidence makes a stronger case for that which there is ample evidence for only works when your beginning supposition is that the two possibilities both have equal ability to be proven in the first place.

If you assume that one of the two possibilities preclude the existence of much (or any) evidence, then the lack of such evidence doesn't have the same impact as in a case where no such assumption is made.

(Norm, Typekey is being weird - please ignore my duplicate unverified post)

"If you assume that one of the two possibilities preclude the existence of much (or any) evidence, then the lack of such evidence doesn't have the same impact as in a case where no such assumption is made."

Well yes, if you're going to evaluate the two alternatives using entirely different criteria, then there's nothing I can say to change your mind. But if one of your assumptions is that evidence cannot exist, then a whole host of things are every bit as valid as religion. For example, suppose I assert that the world was created five seconds ago just as it is. You can't expect to find evidence to the contrary, because part of my assertion is that everything, including our memories and anything that we normally would accept as evidence of something having happened more than five seconds ago, was actually just planted that way.

Of course it's possible that that's the case, but wouldn't you think that someone who believed that, not just as a possibility but as the preferred possibility, was a bit odd?

Allowing possibilities that actually preclude evidence for themselves gets us into some pretty chaotic territory, don't you think? I mean allowing them as reasonable preferred possibilities, at the expense of alternatives, as opposed to mere possibilities to be entertained at cocktail parties.

Why is a belief in God is not compatible with both evolution and the big bang? Or are you making some assumptions about how God would operate?

If it's just a matter of simplicity, Occam's Razor is a nice maxim, but scientists certainly don't claim it always provides the correct answer.

As for the issue of an assumption that evidence can not exist, I acknowledge that it makes the territory chaotic. But if your starting question is "Is there a God?", it's unavoidable unless you assume that God either can't (or doesn't want to) prevent people from proving his existence.

I didn't say that belief in God was incompatible with evolution or the big bang, only that the "strong theistic" position, namely that God created the universe and the earth as they are, is incompatible. I discussed a weaker alternative at length, and even suggested that it could be made to seem an awful lot like major religion's gods.

Nor did I say that Occam's Razor always provides the correct answer. But in the absence of any compelling evidence for a more complex alternative, the more parsimonious is the philosophically correct to adopt. At least until that further evidence comes along, and then by all means, change your mind! If more people were willing to change their mind in the face of new evidence, the world would be an altogether better place.

In science, it's a commendable feat to come across evidence that upsets the current mainstream. Of course, most evidence is ambiguous to some degree. And of course evaluating parsimony is far from objective.

Finally, I agree with you that such an assumption is unavoidable. In fact, that's kind of my point. It sounds like you agree that our alternatives are either to give philosophical preference to atheism pending further evidence, or to admit a whole host of chaotic alternatives as equally viable options.

If it is to be the latter, then we'd better stop trying to treat the psychotic, because their reality is every bit as valid as yours and mine.

I didn't say that belief in God was incompatible with evolution or the big bang

No, but you said you would call a person irrational if they continued to believe in God even though s/he has a complete understanding of the scientific evidence available for evolution and the big bang. Perhaps I misunderstood your point.

It sounds like you agree that our alternatives are either to give philosophical preference to atheism pending further evidence, or to admit a whole host of chaotic alternatives as equally viable options.

Not really. I can't give philosophical preference to atheism pending further evidence, because I don't think there any further evidence can exist given the nature of the question.

As for the whole host of chaotic alternatives being equally viable, this is why I made the point regarding the difference between the belief in God and a random belief in teapots (or the like). Belief in God has been held by billions of people for thousands of years. There are libraries filled with data that support the possibility of a God, which is not something you can say for the beliefs of asylum inmates.

So at the end of the day, after we all whip out our various philosophers, theologians, and scientists, I think everybody gets to flip a coin on this issue. It is a unique (and persistent) question, and there isn't a solid answer. Perhaps the biggest reason that I can't dismiss it so readily is precisely because the question has existed for as long as it has without anyone being able to come up with any physical, logical, or philosophical test which leans heavily in one direction or the other.

"No, but you said you would call a person irrational if they continued to believe in God even though s/he has a complete understanding of the scientific evidence available for evolution and the big bang."

Ah. Sorry -- that statement was not meant to stand alone, but rather to build on the argument I laid out in my first comment. If the person can lay out a convincing case as to why the atheistic explanation is not more parsimonious than the deist explanation, then they can be both rational and believe in God.

"Not really. I can't give philosophical preference to atheism pending further evidence, because I don't think there any further evidence can exist given the nature of the question."

So can you, in fact, lay out a case for why atheism is not more parsimonious than theism? Otherwise you have your aforementioned chaotic assumption, or the option of denying the usefulness of parsimony altogether.

"As for the whole host of chaotic alternatives being equally viable, this is why I made the point regarding the difference between the belief in God and a random belief in teapots (or the like). Belief in God has been held by billions of people for thousands of years. There are libraries filled with data that support the possibility of a God, which is not something you can say for the beliefs of asylum inmates."

But now you're trying to have it both ways, aren't you? You're saying evidence is irrelevant on the one hand, but then you turn around and cite supporting evidence. If we're going to rank belief systems by the amount of evidence for them, then I'm confident in the superiority of scientific explanations.

Or perhaps what you really meant was evidence is good, but proof is irrelevant. But my position doesn't mention proof; it's an argument about evidence and elegance.

So let's reassess the possibilities:

1) Atheism is more parsimonious and no less provable than theism, and therefore should be preferred.

2) Systems that preclude evidence for or against themselves are admissable, and therefore it's impossible to place any belief system over any other.

3) Atheism is not more parsimonious than theism (justification required).

4) Parsimony is not a useful tool in determining which belief systems are preferable.

Am I missing one? The modified #2, which you seem to advocate, seems to be restatable as, "belief systems that preclude evidence are admissable, but only those that are popular and/or old". Doesn't that seem somewhat arbitrary? Why should a philosophical idea be more valid by virtue of its popularity? Popularity seems more like an indication of the idea's ability to propagate than its validity (perhaps axiomatic undisprovability is the best way to ensure longevity).

By the way, Kevin, if you'd prefer to continue this conversation privately, instead of in a blog full of people most of whom disagree with you, you can e-mail me at mranasilver at yahoo dot com. I've very much enjoyed conversing with you -- you keep me on my toes. :-)

Anyone else who'd like to respond to something I've said is free to e-mail me too, though of course if you use my e-mail address for nefarious purposes, well that's just uncool.

I will email you because I've been enjoying the conversation also, but since it's just you and me, email seems more appropriate at this point.

That's fabulous; thanks for posting. It's hardly a new concept, but that's the best explanation of the concept I've seen by far.

By the way, what is the source for this? And is the whole thing available on DVD...?

As far as I know it's not yet available on DVD it was part of the Root of All Evil in two parts The God Delusion and The Virus of Faith you can watch it on both YouTube and Google Video a search on the above titles should find it for you. You can read more about it here

I have watched both documentaries "virus of faith and The God Delusion" and both are great documentaries explaining very well what extreme and irrational thinking can do to mankind and I agree on that. Great example is the renaissance era where Europe was berried deep within irrationality and persecution while Asia was flourishing and contributing to science and mathematic. but there is a problem that is very obvious in the documentary and that is the lack of understanding that science can not explain the boundary between unknown and unknown such as a very beginnings and the complexity that exist in nature. This alone does not mean god has been involved but science as we today is a very basic and itself and methods need to evolve more to explain the universe. What the danger of RELIGION is, it stops people from self thinking while offering them a way out life's problem in a simple fashion that everything happens is because of god. This logic is very wrong and is the cause of some the basic problems in our society. I encourage everyone to watch the documentary but be aware that it does lack substance on some of the issue as it can be a bit one sided. For example He does not explore Buddhism or Hinduism in which actually are more open to this subject of atheism. He also mostly is concerned on established and institutive orthodox “fanatics” religions which is the very problem as well in our society but does not explore adults who are born in less orthodox family such as Catholics or Protestants. most imporatnt thing to remember in documnetry to have self thinking and have says in all that happens and not accept easly what we are told.

As for the lunacy of believing in the existence of phenomena that cannot be proven:

Most of us take for granted the idea that we possess a free will. It is on this concept that most of our moral reasoning rests (and therefore the motivation for society and civilization). Yet "free will" cannot be observed or proven. One would have to prove the existence of "uncause", which is beyond the scope of science. Our allegiance to this concept is thus a product of a kind of faith. I assume most of, if not all, those professing atheism on this post base much of their everyday moral reasoning on the presumption of "free will". Are they as crazy as those who believe in god(s) or galactic teacups?

Our Teapot which art in orbit around the sun, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in orbit. Give us this day our daily tea. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.

DJEB, Oh what a glib sentiment you awful little feminist! I am offended by the laughter of all of these anti-teapot hippies! Yeah, go ahead and roll out the carpet and smoke your ganja while I sit back being a corporate slave and being jealous of your freedom, you damned freedom loving effeminate hippies, you!

The question, Isaac, is not whether it is lunacy to believe in phenomena that cannot be proven, but whether it is lunacy to believe in them simply because they cannot be disproven. In all of this discussion, I think we've lost sight, myself included, of Dawkins's original statement. It would be one thing if there were independent reasons in favor of believing in a god. What's unsupportable is believing in a god simply because one's existence can't be disproved.

As to free will, it is one thing to believe in the existence of a phenomenon, and another entirely to base one's everyday behavior and judgments on the phenomenon. I, for one, do not believe in free will at a metaphysical level, though it certainly seems to exist at a phenomenological one. It's perfectly okay to base one's everyday behavior on a level of belief other than the deepest, metaphysical one. Besides which, if there is no free will, we're not actually basing our behavior on anything, so it's meaningless to decide to behave as if there were no free will.

Anyway, the distinction between deep, metaphysical belief and practical belief is important (not to mention the logical level of "metabelief", or "being prepared to believe", at which everything requires agnosticism -- the existence of God, free will and tables alike).

Frankly speaking, why do we need to subscribe to terms of non-theism like atheits or agnostics.

I don't belive in the concept of God that any religion preaches today. But I do subscribe to the view that Chinese civilisation has embraced for 5000 years that there is an IMPERSONAL entity called Heaven, rather than a personal entity called God.

This entity is responsible for giving us a conscience, which is our only connection to it.

Beyond that, it leaves all living things to live life as it will in our relationship with the world around us.

That would help explain why there seem to be no rhyme or reason in life.

Or why things happen so haphazardly?

Take evolution. It is a process that is uneven and happens in spurts.

Like the whale still possessing leg bones.

While it may mean that whales evolve from land animals, it also clearly showed that whales had given up on dog paddling with normal limbs as a method of travel on the open seas.

Flippers were more useful and this showed a trial and test process by the living organisms which self-engineered the change.

In any case, I see the caos in life not as proof of the absence of God but as the non-action of an impersonal entity, who does not see it as his job to look over you and tell you how to eat, live and breathe.

user-pic

erick, woooooooooo-hooooooo! i wish id seen your comment earlier. my life would have been that much richer! "'Non-believer,' on the other hand, not only covers atheism but all forms of superstitions (and, in fact, all beliefs)." yours is the TRUE religion! instruct me, o light!

user-pic

wheeeeeeeeeeew.the mind REELS! "One can own no beliefs about anything while still having thoughts about anything." take me to the airport,get me on a plane, hurry hurry hurry before i go insane, i can't control my fingers i can't control mhy brain oh no oh no oh no!

user-pic

"It is an argument from ignorance to say that God either exists or does not exist.

Only an agnostic is really being honest.

An Athiest is just another person among many making unprovable assertions."

Posted by: Plisko | August 14, 2006 05:01 PM 1:disagree. the lack of PROOF of gods' existance/non-existance does not imply lack of EVIDENCE for such. knowlege of this evidence (on both sides) can be very useful. it is certainly not "ignorance". 2:disagree. merely holding an ideological position is not honesty-or dishonesty.assuming you're talking about intellectual dishonesty, is an athiest allowed to express even a tiny doubt and still be an athiest? most of those i know will, if pressed(and perhaps plied with booze by a good friend). if you (uncharitably, i might add)) don't allow them this, then i suppose, yes, hundred-per-centers would be dishonest, but there wouldn't be enough of them to be worth talking about. 3:agree:)

Hi Jonathan, I have posted many times here that I am a humanist that leans towards Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies.

I do not subscribe to your absolute definitions on atheists and agnostics.

I find your definitions and thoughts them very odd and disjointed from reality, especially with this statement of yours:

"One can own no beliefs about anything while still having thoughts about anything." take me to the airport,get me on a plane, hurry hurry hurry before i go insane"

So are you saying that people don't have thoughts or can't have them if they have no beliefs.

Funny, the Buddha didn't believe in Gods and he created the longest and most benevolent school of thought in his Buddhist Philosophy.

Funny when I and the other people who don't have beliefs seem to have amny thoughts to share here every day.

Btw, I do think there are many types of non-believers i.e. people who don't believe in the Christian God but believe in something else, people don'tbelieve in anything, people who believes in values and not churches etc.

The list is endless...

Jo Ann, I don't get it.

"I just think religion serves a purpose and is therefore valid."

study logic.

what if you're wrong?

Putting a teapot in orbit around the sun should be one of the goals of NASA.

"If new evidence is discovered that brings the belief into question they simply change their belief."

I think the same could be said of most Christians as well...

Jef,

EvilBible.com is Dead

Large portions of evilbible.com have been considered, dissected and declared fallacious on very many levels. Two examples of this fact are as follows:

Whilst besmirching the Bible for allegedly commanding rape evilbible.com, for some odd reason, neglects to mention the most relevant biblical text related to the biblical view of and law about rape. Why this omission? Who knows, but it would certainly have gotten in the way of a good session of emotive expression of prejudice-it would have discredited evilbible.com to reference this most important text. Indeed, those annoying little facts have an annoying way of getting in the way of good fallacious assertions.

Whilst besmirching the Bible for allegedly commanding human sacrifice evilbible.com, for some odd reason, neglects to mention that the Bible does not command but condemns human sacrifice. Evilbible.com, for some odd reason, neglects to mention that when the Bible reports that human sacrifices did take place they were carried out by Gentile Pagans who were not worshiping the God of the Bible but various false gods. When "Jews" were performing human sacrifices it was only when they turned away from the God of the Bible and joined Gentile Pagans in worshiping various false gods. Yet, in typical militant activist atheist fashion, evilbible.com does not condemn Gentile Pagans but only condemns the Jews.

Further evidence of this is found at this URL:

http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/07/evilbiblecom-is-dead.html

Yeah, the bible doesn't so much say that rape, murder, or sacrifice are a good thing as much as it says that they aren't bad when they are at the request or for the benefit of god. Abraham is a good example. If god asks you to kill your son, the moral answer is "NO!"

Stop bumping old threads if you aren't going to contribute anything worthwhile.

here's how you bump an old thread:

the teapot analogy, while cute and clever as hell, is a strawman. it's a ludicrous idea, like leprachauns and ghosts and fairies and all the other stuff you guys like to throw around. (i'm still holding out for unicorns.)

the idea of a creator/designer of the world is not ludicrous. in fact it's still holding up (barely) against everything the science groupies (notice i didn't say scientists) can throw at it.

it's only when you start trying to describe the creator/designer that things get ludicrous. this is theology- a pleasant waste of time for the argumentatively inclined (like me) but nothing more. it is these wildly speculative descriptions of this theoretical creator that are so easily attacked, both by atheists, and members of any religion that doesn't hold by your particular description.

for what it's worth.

Well you've done a good job of asserting that it's a fallacy, but we're still waiting on your explanation as to why it is.

well, you can just keep waiting. what do you think i am, some kind of godless thread-bumper?

norm, help! we're drowning here.

So much for expecting a worthwhile contribution.

Jebus, Becker, I think I agree completely with your third paragraph there, 99% with the second (a "designer" is just a bit ludicrous given all the chaos we see vs. the "design").

About the first one...

Firstly, do you find ludicrous that there's a teapot in orbit around the sun, therefore it's a strawman?

Secondly, "it's only when you start trying to describe the creator/designer that things get ludricrous. this is theology...". Agreed. But then you say in the 1st paragraph that all that "stuff" we "like to throw around" is also ludicrous. So if a described creator/designer is ludicrous, and all the "stuff" we throw around is ludicrous, why is this "stuff" strawman arguments?

Firstly, do you find ludicrous that there's a teapot in orbit around the sun, therefore it's a strawman?

no, it's a strawman whenever it's used against the designer/creator "theory", as opposed to against the christian god etc., which i guess is fair enough. although even there i'ts on shaky ground imo, i just don't want to get into the position of arguing in favor of the "resurrected jewish rabble rouser" or the "cranky old bastard in the sky" against an orbiting teapot. i'm not sure why i have this aversion, but the wise designer of the teapot argument (russel, was it?) was certainly aware that even the most argumentative among us might have such an aversion.

i hope this covers your second question as well.

Right. I can so imagine a cranky old bastard in the sky. Makes a lot of sense. And don't insult the Pink Unicorn. Her wrath is legendary. She's a real bitch.

i suppose i could take a shot at it anyway, but i'd get busted right away for "appeal to authority" (i think) since i'd be saying things like "everyone knows a cranky old bastard in the sky, no matter how ludicrous the idea, is a hell of a lot more likely than an orbiting teapot. and the argument isn't really about what's ludicrous, but what's likely. plenty of things that are known to exist are ludicrous."

and unlikely, for that matter. this could actually be used as evidence FOR some kind of hostile, or at least playful in some way we don't understand god.

but i digress. forgive me, it's what i do. :)

Its not a strawman, It's an Analogy to describe the thinking of an Atheist/agnostic.

It's not an argument at all!

And its not supposed to equate religion with ludicrousness (I.E. Magical forest creatures) but with something highly unlikely but not easily known to be false.

Thanks, I've been meaning to make the same point.

I'd say it is an argument by analogy.

The analogy isn't that God is like a Unicorn, or Santa, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but as you rightly point out. The analogy compares things that are highly unlikely, but not easily known to be false.

What do you mean about Santa?

I mean I wasn't thinking when I included Santa in the list, hell I've met the guy. Lets play one of these doesn't belong, it's Santa.

Navigation

Support This Site






advertise_liberally.gif

Google Ads

Advertise Liberally Blogroll

All Spin Zone
AMERICAblog
AmericanStreet
ArchPundit
BAGNewsnotes
The Bilerico Project
BlogACTIVE
BluegrassReport
Bluegrass Roots
Blue Indiana
BlueJersey
Blue Mass.Group
BlueOregon
BlueNC
Brendan Calling
BRAD Blog
Buckeye State Blog
Chris Floyd
Clay Cane
Calitics
CliffSchecter
ConfinedSpace
culturekitchen
David Corn
Dem Bloggers
Democrats.com
Deride and Conquer
Democratic Underground
Digby
DovBear
Drudge Retort
Ed Cone
ePluribis Media
Eschaton
Ezra Klein
Feministe
Firedoglake
Fired Up
First Draft
Frameshop
GreenMountain Daily
Greg Palast
Hoffmania
Horse's Ass
Hughes for America
In Search of Utopia
Is That Legal?
Jesus' General
Jon Swift
Keystone Politics
Kick! Making PoliticsFun
KnoxViews
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Left Coaster
Left in the West
Liberal Avenger
Liberal Oasis
Loaded Orygun
MaxSpeak
Media Girl
Michigan Liberal
MinnesotaCampaign Report
Minnesota Monitor
My Left Nutmeg
My Two Sense
Nathan Newman
Needlenose
Nevada Today
News Dissector
News Hounds
Nitpicker
Oliver Willis
onegoodmove
PageOneQ
Pam's House Blend
Pandagon
PinkDome
Politics1
PoliticalAnimal
Political Wire
Poor Man Institute
Prairie State Blue
Progressive Historians
Raising Kaine
Raw Story
Reno Discontent
Republic of T
Rhode Island's Future
Rochester Turning
Rocky Mountain Report
Rod 2.0
Rude Pundit
Sadly, No!
Satirical Political Report
Shakesville
SirotaBlog
SistersTalk
Slacktivist
SmirkingChimp
SquareState
Suburban Guerrilla
Swing State Project
Talking Points Memo
Tapped
Tattered Coat
The Albany Project
The Blue State
The Carpetbagger Report
The Democratic Daily
The Hollywood Liberal
The Talent Show
This Modern World
Town Called Dobson
Wampum
WashBlog
Watching the Watchers
West Virginia Blue
Young Philly Politics
Young Turks

Contact


Commenting Policy

note: non-authenticated comments are moderated, you can avoid the delay by registering.

Random Quotation

Individual Archives

Monthly Archives

scarlet_A.png

Chess Tactics Training

Powered by Movable Type Pro

Copyright © 2002-2014 Norman Jenson