Faith in atheism
I would like to point out that most assumptions are unproven. Hence they are assumptions.
“Now to say that there is such a thing as an insoluble mystery is not to attack reason. It is to say that reason, by itself is insufficient. Reason has its place, but first it has its starting place, which is never reasonable. He says, ‘You can never prove your first statement or it would not be your first statement.’ In other words, there is no such thing as a reasonable assumption. (That would be an oxymoron.) Chesterton points out that logic is a process that can be performed with any assumption. He says that you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.”—Dale Ahlquist
Ockham’s Razor is trying to find preferred theories. If there is an infinite amount of time then there would be no beginning therefore no intermediate (at least in the physical realm sense it seems that everything does seem to happen in a natural series of cause and effect). We are now in a hard spot unless we believed that there was a beginning. So i believe it is more reasonable that something created time and existed out of time. This seems to be a theory that allows our natural thought process. This theory i believe than would be preferred. I don’t think Ockham’s razor disqualifies theories that have “new” things to them but theories that don’t make sense. I also don’t think that the razor would say that the supernatural is anything new especially when we are talking about the creation of the universe, i would say it could be assumed that the creation of the universe was supernatural.
Aquinas: I think it is better to move on since you haven’t convinced me and i obviously haven’t convinced you. Moving on i would like to know what you think the problem with Kalam’s argument is, since his argument makes more sense to you.
“But that does not allow us to paint the whole field with the brush of religion.” I’m simply not doing this. I said that your atheism, since it is based on popular science, is a religion. I think it is a given that today’s popular science is a form of religion. Let me reiterate, not all science is this way just today’s popular sciences. (social sciences, biology, and other)
“Do you have an example of something inexplicable that some people would say science explains but which Christians consider a mystery?” That’s easy God (the Holy Trinity). For in the Christian faith no one claims to know the Father and allows Him to remain mysterious so that the Son and His teachings can be understood more fully. Unlike the popular science of today which ever one you’d like to choose out of the social sciences (which are all based on unproved assumptions called theories), biology, or any other science im leaving out. In the social sciences they call God an “Oceanic Feeling” or the “Super Ego” if i remember correctly. God evolved out of our superstition they explain, He evolved out of our empty feeling. They never once think that the empty feeling can be filled. In biology they claim the same since everything nowadays flows from the evolutionary theory, man evolved from monkeys and then sought God, this truly seems to be the solution. But there is no evidence that man evolved and especially none that our minds have evolved. If you can provide proof of the evolution of our mind I’ll reconsider. (Saying that someday we will discover the origins of the mind through science is a cop out, or “unproved assumption”) Anyways the fact is that through these sciences people have a harder time explaining what morality is and why people should be moral (ex, only the strongest survive). In Christianity it is simple for us to be moral people because we don’t bother explaining our origins in this sense. If Adam and Eve actually existed that’s awesome just great, if their story is simply an allegory that’s cool too. I don’t claim to know this unlike biology and psychology.
So you oppose Aristotle’s ethics because he is theistic but you like Kant’s philosophy though he is theistic?
“Personally, I prefer my life to have meaning.” What is meaning? And why do you prefer it? Also what is a valid moral system? There must be a measure by which you mean meaning. If not there would be no point in using it the way you are. (Competition is not always a good thing either.)
“I agree that there are things worth living or dying for, but I would not globally include justice, good, and faith on the list, and I think everyone’s list would be a little different.” Obviously everyone’s list will be different but does that make them all right? I would have to say no since it is a mental impossibility, because some lists will contradict others.
If someone was forcing me to say i was a bike i would laugh and yell it at the top of my lungs, “I am a bicycle”. If someone asked me if i were Christian and they were pointing a gun at my face i would like to believe that i would say “Yes, im Christian”. I hope i would have the strength to die for my beliefs, especially my love for God.
“I blame the bigots they live amongst.” I would have to blame the atheist or for that matter any theist that denies their beliefs because they are not strong enough to defend themselves (im assuming we are speaking of full grown adults), this seems cowardice. Courage is a virtue. To blame others for something a person themselves can’t do seems like the easy way out.
Your definition of natural; “having a real or physical existence, as opposed to one that is spiritual, intellectual, fictitious, etc.” This is a very narrow definition that will not achieve anything as we will see.
“Is thought natural or supernatural? You say that being unable to see or touch thought makes it unnatural or supernatural by my definition, but I don’t think that is the case — there are many things we can’t see or touch that are perfectly natural (time, temperature, a vacuum).” But they are not part of your definition. You can’t make exceptions, this doesn’t make sense.
“I disagree that my definition of natural makes the mind a supernatural thing, any more than it makes a running computer program a supernatural thing.” You’re wrong, by your definition time, temperature, a vacuum, and running a computer program is all supernatural. They are things that are not physical, and by your definition not natural. We may be able to see the screen of a computer but we really don’t see the “concept of the program”, when the computer is shut down i would say that the program exists somewhere in the memory of the computer. Not to mention that the computer is nothing like our mind since it doesn’t think and imagine as we can without inserting any disks. Concepts would, by definition, be supernatural along with numbers and a variety of other things.
“Regarding willingness to know: “All men by nature desire knowledge” is merely a statement of human desire. “The default position is a willingness to know” is a very different statement because it introduces the words “default” and “willingness.” Saying that men desire knowledge in general does not imply that, in any given case, people desire to know the truth, but saying that willingness to know is the default position does imply this. Saying that knowledge is desired does not imply willingness to know the truth — one may want knowledge, but only be willing to accept certain things as “true”.” I honestly don’t think this makes any sense, especially the part about Aristotle’s generality not applying to every case. Just because i introduce new words don’t get fooled they mean the same thing. Nature seems to be a default position and, willingness seems to be a desire. I also think that knowledge is knowing the truth. If a person knows a lie i doubt anyone will call that knowledge unless they are fooled. To want to know means you want truth. That people don’t desire truth is to go against their nature, in my and Aristotle’s opinion.
“If when I said that the default position is that the unproved is untrue you said that all men by desire knowledge, then you would not be contradicting my point, but adding to it the desire for further investigation.” No. When the unproved is untrue it doesn’t matter how much “investigation” you do because you’ve already stated that it is untrue. You are sounding very skeptic and then turnaround and say that you’re willing to investigate reasonably, this seems unreasonable. Like the Chesterton quote, you’re just backing up your skepticism with your reason there is nothing reasonable about that especially when we are striving for knowledge.
“it is possible that only natural things exist. In fact, I think that is likely the case” Then there is also no such thing as natural, just what is is, there is no need for the word natural.
“Knowledge is physical (a function of the brain); truth is not physical (it’s a measure of reality). I desire the know the truth about all things, whether natural or not. That I am not convinced that supernatural things exist doesn’t mean that I am unwilling to consider their possibility or try to investigate their nature so far as I am able.” Knowledge is obviously not a function but an end to a means which is thinking. And i see no proof that thinking is a physical thing of its own. Thinking is something executed by our brain but thought itself is not the brain, this is where you’re making your mistake. Now if your going say truth is not physical this is another mistake because all truth would then be supernatural according to your definition. Knowledge is having truth in our mind. This is also not a physical thing making it supernatural. If you’re not convinced than explain it to me clearly enough so that i’m convinced (i doubt you’ll be able to do so.) This brings me to my next point if you yourself can’t clearly and rigorously explain things to an individual with at least half a mind (myself) then what puts you against the Bible? If it seems no matter how rigorous you explain something people still will not understand it. So far i think Aristotle and Chesterton make more sense then you (no offense) and they seem to believe in a God. The Bible i think more rigorously explains the things which are important than yourself, at least so far it does, and it is also easier to understand than yourself.
You say that you can be convinced, is this really true? It seems like you would rather defend your atheism sense this is fun in itself. Just like i think philosophy is fun. But your not making sense (i might not be either but what your saying about the natural truly doesn’t make sense) so it seems your putting your thoughts and priorities in defense of your atheism above really giving yourself a chance at being convinced. You really are being a skeptic. And this i really don’t think is a reasonable stance for philosophy. If i could politely suggest to instead of trying to figure out ways around an argument (that don’t make sense) and try finding truth, this will be the only chance anyone has at convincing you of anything. This might come off as rude, so I’ll apologize for that, but i think it’s true. I never said i could be convinced so don’t even bother with trying to convince me (I’ve already been convinced), you’re the one that says you’ll listen to “compelling evidence”. I think that the truth is compelling enough.
“I think it’s far more likely that the Gospels are so unreliable that we can’t make a fair judgment of Jesus in this matter.” Then bring to me some evidence that the Gospels are really unreliable. I don’t think we can discredit the Bible just because it has the supernatural in it. That would be like saying what Chesterton says about sailors, only stupid sailors saw Iceland, and the reason they are stupid is because they saw Iceland. This doesn’t go anywhere as you can see and is very unreasonable.
As for good and evil ill put that off for now.
It’s true that an assumption can be unproven. It’s also true that any conclusion drawn from something unproven cannot be considered proven. (I should clarify, though, that when discussing syllogisms I sometimes refer to the premises as assumptions since the person putting forth the argument assumes that they are true, not because they are unproven.)
You say that in an infinite amount of time there would be no beginning (true), and that in the physical realm there is a series of cause and effect (also true), and that we are in a hard spot unless we assume there was a beginning. I say that we are in a hard spot whether or not we assume there was a beginning. As I discussed in my previous post, as we understand time, we can have either an infinite stretch of time or cause always preceding effect, but not both. Since “something created time” and “something exists outside of time” both include concepts far more difficult and undefined than an infinite stretch of time, I prefer the latter explanation. It is also possible (I’d say likely) that we do not have a complete knowledge of the physics of time and that other completely natural options exist.
I disagree that the supernatural is not anything new, other than in the sense that the concept is not new. If the supernatural were proven to exist, that would indeed be a new thing, and this is what Occam’s razor is concerned with. If the age of a concept was significant, then the razor would prefer the Greek gods to God (which I personally think it should, but that’s an entirely different conversation.)
You say that it can be assumed that the creation of the universe was supernatural. I don’t see why.
You asked what the problem with Kalam’s argument is. It’s the problem I spelled out in my previous post regarding infinity vs. cause and effect. (Both Kalam and Aquinas have this problem, but in my opinion Aquinas also has additional problems.)
You say, “I said that your atheism, since it is based on popular science, is a religion. I think it is a given that today’s popular science is a form of religion. Let me reiterate, not all science is this way just today’s popular sciences. (social sciences, biology, and other)” My atheism is not based on popular science (as you define it). I also disagree that it is a given that these sciences are a form of religion (biology in particular — I’ll agree that some social sciences are at least problematic, if not religious). Please explain further.
I asked for an example of something inexplicable that some people say science explains but which Christians consider a mystery and you proposed God. I’d say you are incorrect when you say that the science of biology has an explanation for God — the concept of God is completely outside of the science of biology. As for social science (which, again, I agree has problems), at best it can attempt to demonstrate where belief in God comes from — it can’t prove or disprove anything about God Himself.
Discussing biology further, you state, “But there is no evidence that man evolved and especially none that our minds have evolved.” I’m going to have to hear your definition of “evidence” in this context, since from my perspective there is tons of it. (By the way, didn’t you say you were Catholic or leaning toward Catholicism? The Catholic church is pretty happy with evolution.)
Now, when you say that people have a harder time explaining what morality is and why people should be moral, you may have a point. Certainly misstatements of the theory of evolution — you refer to “only the strongest survive” — have been used to try and draw moral conclusions, and they should not be. Science is not a valid means of studying morality. However, even if believing in evolution makes it more difficult to be moral, that doesn’t prove that evolution is wrong — it, at best, proves that people have difficulty being moral if they are not being coerced.
You ask, “So you oppose Aristotle’s ethics because he is theistic but you like Kant’s philosophy though he is theistic?” No. I disagree with some of Aristotle’s justification for ethics because it involves the soul, which I don’t think exists. I think that much of Kant’s moral philosophy stands whether or not one is religious (and Kant does point out, if I remember correctly, that it’s easier to be moral if you are religious).
Responding to a number of items that you bring up in quick succession:
- “What is meaning?” In the sense of life having meaning, I use “meaning” to refer to the purpose you wish your life to serve.
- “And why do you prefer it?” Because a life without purpose would feel pointless to me, and I would not find that satisfying.
- “Also what is a valid moral system?” A valid moral system is (at minimum) a moral system that does not contradict itself and that is based on reasoning that is valid no matter who conducts it. Plenty of moral systems don’t meet these simple requirements.
- “There must be a measure by which you mean meaning. If not there would be no point in using it the way you are.” I’m not sure what you mean here. Are you asking if we can rank different types of meaning — “feed the poor” is better than “be happy,” etc.? I don’t know that this would be useful or necessary, but hadn’t really thought about it.
- “(Competition is not always a good thing either.)” Agreed.
Regarding peoples’ lists of things they would be willing to die for, you say, “Obviously everyone’s list will be different but does that make them all right?” No, having different lists does not make all the lists right. I see no reason it should. But you say that all the lists being right, “is a mental impossibility, because some lists will contradict others.” Since this is a matter of personal philosophy, the lists can be contradictory without being wrong. “Joe is willing to die to defend Islam” does not imply that Moe is wrong if he is willing to die to defend Christianity. If you are asking for a list of things that everyone will agree it’s worth dying for, I don’t have one (but I’d be willing to entertain suggestions).
You say, “If someone was forcing me to say i was a bike i would laugh and yell it at the top of my lungs, ‘I am a bicycle’.” Sure, but I didn’t ask about that — I asked what you would do if someone ordered you at gunpoint to believe that you are a bicycle. I assume you couldn’t do that. Similarly, I couldn’t be forced to convert to a religion at gunpoint. At best, I could laugh and yell “Jesus is my savior” at the top of my lungs, but I’d be lying to avoid being shot.
You say that you would blame the atheist or theist who was not strong enough to defend themselves, instead of blaming those who persecute them, and that “To blame others for something a person themselves can’t do seems like the easy way out.” It’s true that courage is a virtue, but I don’t think it’s a moral requirement. In particular, I would find it very hard to tell a parent that they need to defend their beliefs (as opposed to avoiding the subject, for example) when doing so could leave their child shunned or beaten, and I would find it even harder to tell such a parent that it’s not those who are threatening harm that are to blame. In all seriousness, if you knew that harm would come to your child if you announced your religious beliefs, would you stand up and tell the truth or sneak away, given the opportunity? I can see good arguments for either position, but am wondering what you would do.
I don’t understand how you are seeing a contradiction in my definition of natural. You can’t see or touch time, temperature, or a vacuum, but (per my definition) they have a real or physical existence and are therefore natural. I am not making an exception.
You say, “You’re wrong, by your definition time, temperature, a vacuum, and running a computer program is all supernatural. They are things that are not physical, and by your definition not natural.” Time is a dimension of space-time — it’s physical. Temperature is a measure of motion — also physical. A vacuum has calculatable properties in quantum physics, just like any other physical thing. A computer program is (essentially) an arrangement of electrical charges, and electricity is physical. All of these are physical things.
You say that a “computer is nothing like our mind since it doesn’t think and imagine as we can without inserting any disks.” To me, that’s like saying “a digital watch is nothing like a super computer, since it can’t help design airplanes or model weather systems.” I’d say that the brain is just a computing machine that we consider mysterious because we don’t completely understand it.
You say, “Concepts would, by definition, be supernatural along with numbers and a variety of other things.” Concepts would not be natural by my definition, but I would also not call them supernatural in that they have no existence in and of themselves. I could conceivably answer the question, “Where is God?” but not the question “Where is pi?” Concepts are neither natural nor supernatural. If everything must be either natural or supernatural, then anything that can be defined but doesn’t exist is supernatural, and I’m sure you can see all the problems that would cause (I wouldn’t say that my Aunt Frida is supernatural just because she doesn’t exist).
You say, “I also think that knowledge is knowing the truth. If a person knows a lie i doubt anyone will call that knowledge unless they are fooled. To want to know means you want truth. That people don’t desire truth is to go against their nature, in my and Aristotle’s opinion.” I will accept a definition of knowledge that requires truth. But given this definition, I disagree that all people, in general, want knowledge. They may want knowledge about certain subjects — or even most subjects — but there may be areas where they only want to “know” the truth if that truth has a certain form. We agree that there are some beliefs people will defend to the death, but there are some people who have so much invested in a certain belief (that their son is not a murderer, for example) that they will defend it to the death even to the point of discarding evidence just because it contradicts their belief.
Regarding the default position being that the unproved is untrue, you say, “When the unproved is untrue it doesn’t matter how much ‘investigation’ you do because you’ve already stated that it is untrue.” Perhaps I was being unclear. The default position is that the unproven is to be treated as untrue until further evidence comes to light. Even when an issue seems settled, I think it’s worth examining new evidence.
Regarding my statement that it’s possible that only natural things exist, you say, “Then there is also no such thing as natural, just what is is, there is no need for the word natural.” Not so. There is use for the word “real” even though only real things exist. And, I should point out, you seem to be treating my saying something is possible as if I am saying that something is definitely true (as you did with my saying that it is possible that Jesus was mistaken). This may be making our discussion more difficult than it needs to be.
Back to the brain, you say, “Knowledge is obviously not a function but an end to a means which is thinking.” I disagree. A person can’t have knowledge without a brain, and a person cannot think without a brain. That knowledge comes from thinking does not mean that it is not also a function of the brain.
“And i see no proof that thinking is a physical thing of its own.” I hold that thought being supernatural is what needs to be proven here, not that thought is natural. But let me take a stab at giving evidence for this anyway. Thinking hasn’t been shown to exist without a brain. Damage to the brain can impact thinking. Malformed brains frequently correlate with difficulty in thinking. Increased brain complexity generally correlates with increased ability to reason. Brain surgery can change how someone thinks. Even with our rudimentary knowledge of how the brain works, scientists can sometimes detect how someone is thinking about a specific topic by examining the activity of that person’s brain. All of this is evidence that thinking is a function of the brain.
“Now if your going say truth is not physical this is another mistake because all truth would then be supernatural according to your definition.” Truth is a concept, as discussed above. You continue, “Knowledge is having truth in our mind.” To be more precise, knowledge is having a thought that agrees with truth. A thought is a state of the brain and therefore not supernatural.
Now things seem to get a little nasty on your part: “This brings me to my next point if you yourself can’t clearly and rigorously explain things to an individual with at least half a mind (myself) then what puts you against the Bible?” You’re saying that I am not as clear as a book you haven’t even finished reading? That’s pretty harsh. I’d say that part of the problem with this comparison is that the Bible is neither particularly clear nor rigorous — if it were, I think there would be a lot less disagreement about what it says. Another part of the problem is that it’s always easier to make up a story about how something works than to explain how it really works. For example, it’s easier to tell a story about how a supernatural being created all the world’s languages than to explain how languages evolve. This does not imply that the story is a better explanation in any useful sense.
You say that no matter how rigorous I am people do not understand and that I am not easy to understand. I certainly accept responsibility for being unclear, so far as I am. But you also seem to be fighting my attempts to explain (as opposed to fighting my explanation) quite frequently by misstating my position, and that makes my job more difficult than it has to be.
You continue by saying that so far as the Bible explains things that are important, it does so more rigorously than I do. I have two responses to this. First, where are these rigorous explanations? For example, “God did it” isn’t a rigorous explanation for where our universe came from. Second, the Bible may explain things but it proves very little. I can explain to my child exactly how Thor makes lightning, but this does nothing to prove that Thor exist.
You ask, “You say that you can be convinced, is this really true?” It is true that I am open to being convinced. I am committed to changing my mind in the face of solid reasoning. This is how I became an atheist in the first place. Whether or not I ultimately can be convinced cannot be decided by me, but by the weight of the evidence.
“You really are being a skeptic.” If a skeptic is someone who routinely doubts the validity of things that are stated as factual, then I’m a skeptic (even of my own beliefs). I prefer being a skeptic in this sense to taking stated facts at face value. If you are defining a skeptic as, for example, someone who is against religion, then I am not a skeptic. As an aside, I think that a person can have completely reasonable, rational reasons for being religious, and I don’t think less of a person who is religious for such reasons.
You continue, “If i could politely suggest to instead of trying to figure out ways around an argument (that don’t make sense) and try finding truth, this will be the only chance anyone has at convincing you of anything.” I have read the Bible in several translations and have more than 100 books in my library on Christianity, written from religious, scholarly, and atheistic perspectives. I subscribe to several apologetic podcasts and read religious-philosophy Web sites. If I seem to not be considering an argument, perhaps it’s because I’ve been looking for the truth for decades and have seen nothing new in a long time. Every argument seems to boil down to, “I understand you have objections, but why don’t you just believe.”
You say, “I never said i could be convinced so don’t even bother with trying to convince me (I’ve already been convinced), you’re the one that says you’ll listen to ‘compelling evidence’.” So once you’ve made up your mind about something you’re not willing to consider further discussion? If that’s what you mean, I think it’s unfortunate. In any case, I have no desire to try and change your religious position.
“I think that the truth is compelling enough.” You seemingly imply that the truth is more compelling than evidence. How do you know what the truth is without evidence? Way back when we began our discussion, I suggested that you share what convinced you to become a Christian. You declined and that’s fine, but it’s starting to sound like that information might have helped us streamline a lot of this conversation.
Regarding the reliability of the Gospels, you say, “I don’t think we can discredit the Bible just because it has the supernatural in it.” I agree, but I also think that explanations that involve the supernatural require a higher level of evidence because the supernatural itself is unproven. If I read a document that claimed to be historical but said that ancient Egyptians could do magic, I would be particularly skeptical of it (can I assume you would not?) When I read about the Trojan war, I consider details of battle locations more likely reliable than explanations of which deities impacted the battle. I’ll give more credence to a sailor who says he saw a new island than one who says he saw a new island teeming with leprechauns. I require more evidence from someone who says they can predict the weather with psychic powers than from someone who says they can predict it with statistics. I don’t think any of this is unreasonable, and, in fact, I think it helps me not take many untrue things at face value.
You ask for evidence that the Gospels are unreliable. Well, they’re apparently written to make a point rather than just to relay history, and this introduces the possibility of significant bias. So far as they tell the truth, they do not always tell the whole truth. There are things reported in the Gospels as old-testament prophecies which are based on misreading or bad translations of Hebrew (e.g., Matthew 21:5). I think that’s a good start.
In: Bible, Discussion, Evidence, Evolution, Morality