February 2007

For example, to me it is a matter of faith — something believed without proof — that the laws of physics do not change and that my perceptions are (at least in some way) a reflection of reality.

I thought the common definition of “faith” is “belief without evidence,” not “belief without proof.”

When discussing deities, I think we have to adjust our vocabulary to accommodate those to whom we are having a discussion. Otherwise we could find ourselves in a discussion of corn where I mean maize and someone else means wheat. When a Christian says “God,” I assume they mean the Christian god and are saddling themselves with all the attached philosophical baggage. When you say “God,” I assume you mean something much more narrowly defined. Being able to make statements about a deistic god doesn’t help us when discussing a Christian god.

Well, when it comes to the Christian god, I’m a “strong” atheist. I believe such a god is not logically coherent, and will defend the claim that such a god, like square circles, simply cannot exist.

You say that we “usually try to help people make the distinction between what they imagine and what is real” and you are right. The problem is that feelings of faith are generally closer to raw emotions than they are to obvious delusions. It is possible to argue that Sally doesn’t really love Bob because Bob’s a jerk, and maybe you could convince Sally that she is just mistaking need for love, but then we get into the mess of trying to define what love is in the first place. The feeling of experiencing God’s love or of “knowing” that there just has to be a creator might be the same sort of beast, but I don’t know because I don’t experience it so I have trouble arguing that others aren’t experiencing it.

Ok, but it was my impression that you seemed to place “proof through revelation” as somehow less disputable than, for instance, “proof through burning bush.” I just wanted to point out that, if both are entirely natural, both are open to refutation on empirical grounds. Obviously, we cannot observe the brain by the same means as we would a bush, but that is not grounds for immunity, and neither is the level of pervasiveness of a particular delusion. I’m not arguing, incidentally, that people don’t truly love god, but I would point out that some people might love Zeus just as much, or Harry Potter.

If we could identify the state of mind that equals feeling God’s love, then you are right that we could probably recreate it medically. But this does not prove that feelings of God’s love are not caused by God any more than a magician bending spoons proves that Uri Geller is a magician and not a psychic (although it sure would lead me to suspect that). I’d say that a personal revelation of god is indisputable only to the person who experiences it and only in the sense that there is no evidence I can produce that will change their mind. It is not immune to criticism, but such criticism will have no impact on the person who received the revelation. Can this kind of thing be said of mental illnesses as well? Sure.

Ok, let’s replace every “god” with “Santa Claus”. If I can show someone that Santa was really Dad, I think that person might reconsider their views. It wouldn’t even be necessarily obnoxious of me to do so.

I agree that I cannot think of any empirical proof for the existence of a supernatural creator that would be unquestionable. I don’t agree that the laws of logic arise from the physical laws, because logic can exist without the physical (as can mathematics).

Here we have a parting of the ways. I do not agree that either logic or mathematics could exist without the physical. This helps explain some of our disagreements.

The deistic god piece is worth looking at. It seems to me that if I can’t prove or disprove a god that took a hike right after creation, I also can’t prove or disprove one that left a year, or a million years, or a billion years after creation. If god decided his work was done and left in 2004, I would be similarly out of luck. Just a thought.

This is curious, because it seems to me that you hold that a theistic god is provable, I’m guessing by means of miracles or some such, but the deistic god is not. I wonder if you find this as troubling as I do.

Of course, anything related to a deistic god doesn’t do us much good today. There aren’t a lot of deists around (which is too bad, because I think deism is pretty defensible). Bummer.

Ahhh yes, the notorious cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments. It’s gotten to the point that even thinking about them makes me feel unclean.

More good stuff!

Let’s start with the definition of “faith.” I’d say that faith is “belief without proof,” not “belief without evidence,” because a great many people who have faith would say that they have evidence for that faith. For example, I have a lot of evidence that the laws of physics are immutable, but I can’t prove it.

About you being a “strong” atheist with respect to the Christian God: this is a broad field, because even Christians can’t agree on the nature of God. I think you and I technically agree on this, but for different reasons and with different means of expression. In that I have yet to hear a good, coherent, complete definition of God from a Christian, I am not willing to say that “God” (whatever that is) does or does not exist, but the being described by the definitions of God I’ve heard is either so vaguely defined that I can draw no conclusions or does not exist for the reasons you state.

I do think that “proof through revelation” is less disputable than “proof through burning bush,” if only for matters of convenience. More importantly, I think that revelation is more compelling to the individual who experiences it than a burning bush. If there is an all-powerful god and that god wants me to believe, I will believe — I have no choice. For that matter, if super-advanced aliens want to adjust my brain chemistry so I think I’m a carrot, I’ll have to believe that, too. (Perhaps making me a theistic carrot.)

Certainly we can argue against and examine proof through revelation. I just think it’s generally pointless because, ultimately, you can’t prove there was no supernatural cause. Similarly, Catholics believe that God works through science and directs evolution, and there’s no way to disprove that. At best, you can say that God is not a necessary part of the equation.

I agree with you about the Santa Claus replacement. I think there can be value in getting people to consider the possibility that their “revelation” of God’s existence might have other explanations. But this neither proves nor disproves the existence of a deity (and, in any case, is pretty low on my list of priorities — I think getting people to behave well within theism is more important right now than trying to convince people to give up their faith).

I am curious why you would say that logic or mathematics could not exist without the physical. Do you mean that there can be no number “1” without anything to be counted? This may be simply a semantic disagreement.

Deistic gods: a deistic god is not provable because it doesn’t do anything anymore. It is possible that a theistic god is provable, because it might chose to do something to prove its existence. Aside from changing my brain chemistry, I don’t know what that “something” might be, but I can’t say that I’m smart enough to have thought of all the possibilities. Do I find this troubling? Not really. Frustrating at times, maybe. I would much rather be able to find out the truth behind everything, but some things are beyond investigation.

I should also bring up the point that it may be possible to find proof of even a deistic god after death. I doubt it, and I’m not in a hurry to try, but I think it worth mentioning the possibility. Not that it does us any good at the moment.

I sometimes talk about UFOs and alien abductions as a bit of an analog to religion, and in the case of our discussion there are some interesting parallels. If aliens once visited Earth but no longer do so, I can’t disprove their visits and there is no good evidence for their visits, but I wouldn’t say aliens have never visited our planet. There are literally millions of people who have had a UFO experience of one sort or another, but even though I think the possibility of extraterrestrial life is quite high, I think it likely that all those millions of people are wrong. If aliens do visit us one day, I think we’ll find that they are much different from anything current UFO-fans have in mind. My suspicion is that, in the unlikely event that there is a deity, we will find it completely alien to current common beliefs. And that makes discussion of such an entity’s properties (including existence) very difficult indeed.

Posted on February 3, 2007 at 12:59 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: About atheism, Defining god, Discussion, Strong atheism

Leave a Reply