Whaddya got?

Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at The University of Notre Dame, has been bashing atheism in the New York Times.  His latest column, a critique of Gnu Atheism, has been pretty well eviscerated at Butterflies and Wheels and Pharyngula. I want to talk about something that hasn’t yet come up: Gutting’s complete failure to show that we should take the existence of God seriously.  He’s adept at producing philoso-speak, but a miserable failure at adducing evidence.

First, his claim.  Gutting basically reprises the Courtier’s Reply, saying that nobody should take The God Delusion seriously since

Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires. The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one’s own intellectual problems. . . .

Friends of Dawkins might object: “Why pay attention to what philosophers have to say when, notoriously, they continue to disagree regarding the ‘big questions’, particularly, the existence of God?” Because, successful or not, philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions.

What is the “best rational thinking” of contemporary philosophers that bears on Dawkin’s case?  First, that God could be simple.  Ergo, Dawkins’s argument that a complex God demands explanation holds no water.  P. Z. and Ophelia have exposed this gambit for the ad-hocery that it is.

Gutting further argues that “Dawkins’ argument ignores the possibility that God is a necessary being (that is, a being that, by its very nature, must exist, no matter what).”  Wrong.  Dawkins certainly discusses—and disposes of—ontological arguments like the “necessary-being” gambit in The God Delusion. He also discusses first-cause arguments analogous to those used to buttress a “necessary being.

But who cares? I can’t conceive how philosophical argument alone, without any input of data, is going to prove—or even strongly suggest—that God exists. Indeed, as Gutting somewhat poignantly admits, all the “best rational thinking” of philosophers hasn’t settled the case:

Of course, philosophical discussions have not resolved the question of God’s existence. Even the best theistic and atheistic arguments remain controversial.

But the “best atheistic argument” is not controversial: it’s simply this: “I don’t see convincing evidence for God.”  As the best theistic arguments fail, the best atheistic argument becomes even stronger.

But philosophy is overrated here.  The existence of a deistic God—one who doesn’t do anything tangible—is forever beyond the purview of both philosophy and science.  And for a theistic God, philosophy alone won’t do.  You need evidence, and by that I mean something more than revelation or intuition.   Rather than keep countering the feints of apologists wielding the rubber rapier of the Courtier’s Reply, let us go on the offensive, asking  them to state their positive case for God.  And by this I mean answering these three questions:

1) What evidence do you have for God’s existence?

2) Does that evidence, whatever it is, support the particular God you accept rather than gods of other faiths—or a different kind of god entirely?

3) How would you know if you were wrong?

In practice, these good folks never go beyond #1. Nor does Gutting.  So what does he bring to the table? He’s got one argument:

Revelation and intutition.

As Gutting says:

There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence. Therefore, an agnostic stance seems preferable [sic] atheism.

Leaving aside the issue of whether a person claiming that God exists because she’s “aware of him” could be considered sensible, this is hardly evidence, and certainly no reason to think that, well, maybe there might be a god after all.  Jails and asylums are full of people who have direct awareness of things that don’t exist.  Tons of people believe in alien abduction.  Millions more have direct awareness that diluting one biomolecule in an ocean of water makes a good nostrum.  And if you argue that those who are “aware of God” are much more numerous, I respond that those cases of awareness are not independent, since nearly everyone is taught from infancy that God exists.

As for those “competent philosophers” who endorse arguments for God’s existence, Gutting himself has admitted that those arguments have all failed.  I give those “competent philosophers” no more credence than I do the “competent postmodernists” who declare that there are no objective truths.

And if you dare suggest that we need not just mass intuition, but material evidence, Gutting has an answer:

But what is the evidence for materialism? Presumably, that scientific investigation reveals the existence of nothing except material things. But religious believers will plausibly reply that science is suited to discover only what is material (indeed, the best definition of “material” may be just “the sort of thing that science can discover”). They will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science.

Here Gutting is wrong, for while science is impotent before the completely immaterial, it’s not before the material effects of immaterial beings. A theistic God is one who has effects on matter, and so comes within the purview of science.  Does Gutting not realize that a virgin birth, or a resurrected dead person, or answered prayers, constitute material realities supposedly produced by an immaterial reality? Gutting’s argument works for an indolent deistic God, but not a theistic one.  Any God who works in the world becomes a god whose existence can be demonstrated empirically.  And of course that’s the kind of God that most Americans accept.

People like Gutting spend their days attacking Dawkins because they can’t themselves confect a convincing case for God.  When they’re forced to produce one, it invariably comes down to asserting either a) “You can’t prove me wrong since my God is totally elusive, dude” or b) “God exists because I and lots of other folks think he does.”  These arguments don’t play well in public, which is why religious scientists always wriggle like eels when asked to explicitly declare their beliefs and justify their faith.

We should spend less time defending ourselves against things like the Courtier’s Reply and more time demanding that our opponents make a positive case for God, answering the three questions given above.   That, I think, is the best way to show that they got nothing.

131 Comments

  1. GaZ
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I have some idea that the answer is not going to sit well with everyone.
    The END
    The ‘Energy Never Dies’

  2. Jacobus van Beverningk
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    “being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers”
    AND
    “philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions”

    I would like to refer to these statements as “pulling a Pigliucci”.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      I would say amen to that.

  3. Jacobus van Beverningk
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    “There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being”

    I am a sensible person I’d like to report here that I have had, on more than one occasion, some kind of direct awareness of the absurdity of the concept of “God(s)”.

    • Jacobus van Beverningk
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Just curious: any other sensible people here with similar experiences? I’d like to know if I’m unique in this respect? ;-)

      TOTALLY off topic: Jerry, since this is a WordPress blog, it shouldn’t be too difficult (plugins) to allow for (logged-in) users to edit their comments (I HATE seeing typos in my comments). Is that something you would consider?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        I think this is what philosopher Matt McCormick refers to as the sensus atheistus.

        • Jack van Beverningk
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

          Wow.. Interesting stuff there! Thanks for pointing that link out to me!

      • MosesZD
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Pretty much every day… Especially when David Heddle shows up and starts in with his arrogant anthropomorphic universe arguments.

        I mean, seriously, the observable universe 46.5 BILLION light years across. It consists of trillions of stars, planets, nebula, etc. And yet he thinks it was all created for some hairless ape as part of a silly morality play?

        That’s pretty damn arrogant. We’re not that special. Really.

        • Jacobus van Beverningk
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          “.. hairless ..”

          Hey! Speak for yourself!

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        I think Carl Sagan explained it best in his Demon Haunted World. Even “normal” humans suffer from hallucinations (at the very least, the hallucinations in slumber which we call dreams). I remember as a child I had a number of waking auditory hallucinations as well – I think many people have had that experience when they turn to someone and ask “did you say something?” It is such a common hallucination that we think nothing of it. For others perhaps the hallucinations are far more vivid or there is something else wrong with their brain and struggle to tell the difference between hallucination and reality. For many people who are not at that extreme of not being able to tell reality from hallucination, if those people are not accustomed to the rational techniques for discerning what is real/true, they may be inclined to ascribe the experiences to a god which they have heard so much of as a child (and probably as an adult too). I think it is really sad that there are still many people who are not aware of our various defects as humans and even though they do not suffer severe limitations are still unable to recognize their hallucinations for what they are.

        • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

          In my office, there are two women (Sara and Amanda for th sake of argument) who both have telephones within earshot of me.

          I swear that every time Sara answers the phone, I hear her say “Hello, , Amanda speaking.”

          And the same for Amanda, only the other way around.

          It’s seriously weird – and I’m not the only person who’s reported this.

          (Names changed from originals, of course – but the originals don’t sound at all alike either)

    • Robert Firth
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      I believe in God because I have been touched by His Noodly Appendage. And I double dare you to prove he doesn’t exist!

  4. Sajanas
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I think the main argument against Dawkins is to refer to other arguments where he has been refuted. And then fail to reference those. Quite a clever method, I must say. Most theistic apologists I read from sites like this one refer to ‘the discredited ideas of Dawkins’. Yet they never reference it.

    I think its all just mental doublespeak, where they accept the authority of an anecdote without reading the evidence (or The God Delusion).

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      Indeed. One that really irritated me was the claim that Dawkins’s Ultimate 747 Argument was “shredded”. No shredding was adduced.

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        Gee, what’s wrong with you Jerry, you simply have to *believe* that the argument was shredded because there *is* a god because he said so himself, and being such a magnificent creature he was able to say so without ever saying so himself. What’s so hard about that?

      • Richard Wein
        Posted August 17, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Well, I did think the 747 argument was poor when I read TGD. As far as I remember, the argument seemed to go:

        1. A creator God must be complex.
        2. Therefore he must be “statistically improbable”.
        3. Therefore it’s improbable that he exists.

        I don’t have a problem with the idea that God must be complex, though I’d like to have seen Dawkins make a stronger argument for it. But he then seems to conflate two different types of probability. Dawkins uses “statistically improbable” in a combinatorial sense. If you take some uniform probability distribution over every possible permutation of some basic components, it’s extremely improbable that you’ll get a functionally complex entity. But it doesn’t follow that it’s improbable that functionally complex entities exist. And of course evolved organisms are a counter-example.

        I think he’s made the argument better elsewhere:
        “For me, the important point is that, even if the physicist needs to postulate an irreducible minimum that had to be present in the beginning, in order for the universe to get started, that irreducible minimum is certainly extremely simple. By definition, explanations that build on simple premises are more plausible and more satisfying than explanations that have to postulate complex and statistically improbable beginnings. And you can’t get much more complex than an Almighty God!”

        http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/dawkins_18_3.html

        Perhaps he made a similar argument in TGD and I just missed it. Please let me know if that’s so. But even this argument contains an error. What Dawkins claims is true “by definition” is indeed true, but not by definition. (What definition does he have in mind?) It’s a conclusion based on experience.

        • Tyro
          Posted August 17, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          I think the point is that God as described by the monotheisms cannot have evolved, else it would just be some other scummy organism. An alien, but an evolved alien. Evolution would also have wiped out the bits about being eternal, fundamental, blah blah blah.

          I can dig out TGD to see if this is in there or not, I don’t remember.

      • Richard Wein
        Posted August 17, 2010 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        P.S. I also think a further step is needed from “God is a poor explanation for anything” to “God probably doesn’t exist”. Something like: experience shows that invoking mysterious entities without good reason is counter-productive to having a good understanding of the world.

        You can’t give a purely theoretical argument against God (or anything else). You have to appeal to experience.

    • Barry
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      It really doesn’t matter whether Dawkins is wrong about absolutely everything he’s ever written. This still provides no evidence for god. The religious, and particularly so-called “moderate christians”, turn these debates into a “Dawkins or god” dichotomy where any strike against Dawkins is tangible evidence for god. I think it’s called “sophisticated theology.”

  5. Stuart M
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Here’s a challenge for anyone who wants to prove God’s existence. God is basically a mind without a brain. The only minds that we know about are human minds, and they are completely dependent on brains. All that has to be done is to show that at least some kind of mind exists without a brain. It doesn’t have to be God just some kind mind, perhaps a demon or a disembodied spirit. This would at least show that something like God could exist.

    • Barry
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Deeeeepak Chopra claims to already have established this. What would be the testable hypothesis that would enable us to establish a “mind without a brain?” Doesn’t sound like a scientific hypothesis to me.

      • Stuart M
        Posted August 17, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        If someone claims to have established the hypothesis then it’s testable.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      When you come up with a good definition of “mind” or non-human intelligence, let us know. The AI people have been arguing about that one for years.

      • Stuart M
        Posted August 17, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        No need to come up with any definitions. Suppose that spiritual mediums were able to communicate with spirits of the dead. Suppose that they were able to do this under the most strictly controlled conditions to rule out fraud, and that they were able to do so repeatedly and on demand. Then we would have strong evidence of disembodied minds. If that was the case it wouldn’t prove the existence of God but it would certainly call into question the world view of most atheists.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      I would suggest a little more care in the construction of your challenge, since artificial intelligence could be considered to defeat it. Perhaps: “show the existence of any kind of mind without some physical embodiment, such as a brain, electronic or mechanical computer.”

      • Stuart M
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you’re right. The challenge would be to demonstrate the existence of a mind independent of some physical embodiment. This is of course what spiritualists have tried to do for nearly 200 hundred years. If they had succeeded it would have made the idea of God more plausible. There is no reason why the hypothesis can’t be investigated scientifically.

      • Stuart M
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you’re right. The challenge would be to demonstrate the existence of a mind independent of some physical embodiment. This is of course what spiritualists have tried to do for nearly 200 years. If they had succeeded it would have made the idea of God more plausible. There is no reason why the hypothesis can’t be investigated scientifically.

    • MadScientist
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m aware of minds and brains in other animals as well, so I don’t know what planet you’re on.

  6. Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Grab yer life jacket once again, cuz we’re about to go white water rafting in a raging river of white noise.

  7. Steve
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Old joke about philosophers:
    Yes we know its possible in practice, but is it possible in principle?

    • steve oberski
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      In theory, theory and practice are the same, in practice they are not.

    • MadScientist
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Hehehe; that happens once in a while in science where it may take many generations before an observation is explained. Hey, just think about comets or even planets – various things about them have only been explained in the past 500 years even though we know from ancient records that they have been observed over 2600 years ago. Why are the ‘planets’ wandering stars? What is a comet – is it an atmospheric phenomenon like a rainbow or is it a celestial body? (I’m not even throwing in the nonsense options like “a sign from a god”.) So they’re there in practice but the principles may take a while to sort out.

  8. Tyro
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I’m also interested to know how they reconcile their beliefs/conclusions with the profusion of other, incompatible religious beliefs. It’s a sub-class of the “how would you know if you were wrong” point but since it’s one of the most glaring examples that most religions are wrong in most of their details I think it’s good to get it out there.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Exactly. This is also the main problem with the quote “There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being”: why did all these sensible people come up with such different divine beings?

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        And if they’re really sensible, why do they think their “some kind of direct awareness” of something is anything more than their personal subjective experience? Why do they not realize that personal subjective experience is not valid evidence for the existence of something in the world? (I mean, sensible people have generally heard of hallucinations and illusions…)

        • Ichthyic
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          I’ve seen that addressed by some religionauts in the form of saying that there are more similarities than differences between how most people view deities.

          IOW, they just project their own ideas onto everyone else’s, and conclude they fit just fine.

          In fact, they then post-hoc conclude that all these “similarities” must actually be PROOF there is a god!

          Seriously, I’ve seen that many times, even when I was studying religion as an undergrad.

        • Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

          It’s not that hard. People compartmentalize their beliefs all the time.

          This stuff over here, where I might get hit by a car if I don’t look both ways before crossing the street, or where I care if the people who owe me money pay me or not – then, evidence really matters.

          This stuff over there, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, and where I won’t get slammed by a car or lose more money than I can afford – well, I can choose not to care about evidence there. That way I get all the warm fuzzies I want with no material setbacks that I care about.

          I said it wasn’t hard – I didn’t say it wasn’t contemptible.

          My favorite example of this is DonExodus2’s de-conversion story:

          Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX1CxxmA5R8
          Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKUTSC-0zq8

        • Posted August 17, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

          It’s pretty common for people to interpret whatever unusual feeling or experience they have as validation — Proof! — of whichever religion they happen to have handy.

          “Religious” experiences generally have pretty good natural explanations.

  9. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    We need to spend less time defending ourselves against things like the Courtier’s Reply and more time demanding that our opponents make a positive case for God, answering the three questions given above.

    But the conversation isn’t structured to allow this. It would require that we accept atheists’ challenges as something other than aggression, and it’s been demonstrated that we’re not going to to that.

    • Tyro
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Responding with our own questions is like adding humour and mockery in with facts and reason. They aren’t tactics targeted at the apologists making the dumb arguments but at the general public who is reading/hearing the debate. Some people, even some Christians, will see that “their side” is unable to answer elementary questions and is using trickery where atheists appear honest and consistent in their search for truth.

      People want to be on the side of truth, just as they don’t want to be on the side getting mocked and laughed at.

      So yes, some people will just see it as aggression but even small dips of water can carve a cave given time and persistence.

  10. Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Coming from a math background, I’m not ready to completely dismiss philosophy/logic as ways of determining truths about the universe. Logic can show that certain propositions or ideas are self-contradictory, thereby providing proof that they cannot exist except as abstract concepts. Omnipotence is one of these concepts: the idea of being able to make something infinitely strong is not self-contradictory, and the idea of being able to break any physical object is not self-contradictory, but being able to do both: can God make an object so strong that She couldn’t break it? is self-contradictory. So any god that is supposed to be omnipotent possesses a self-contradictory trait, and therefore cannot exist as described.

    Personally, I find the Problem of Evil to be the most convincing argument against the existence of the omni- good, powerful and knowing god. Theodicies always came off as lame excuses, especially when you see that they can be turned around and used to show that an all evil god could just as likely exist (a la Stephen Law’s God of Eth.)

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Logic can say what can’t exist…but can it work in the other direction? Can it conjure something into existence just by arguing?

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Sure, math and logic can be very useful. But in order for a chain of logic to be able to tell us anything about the real world, one end of the chain needs to be anchored in the real world.

      • Tyro
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        We’ve a word for math and logic which are anchored in the real world: “science”.

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Heh, I know they can be very useful – I didn’t mean my question to be that naive. I just wanted to clarify whether they are more useful for ruling things out than for ruling them in. Gutting and people like him talk as if arguments can just conjure things into existence. I’m not sure that works.

        • Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          Oh hell yes, logic can prove existence. I could prove, for instance, that, given any two rational numbers, there is a third rational number strictly between them. In a less math-oriented example: if I were to lay out an objective rubric for assigning a real number value to the world’s medical professionals, then I could prove that there existed a world’s worst doctor (or a group of them who are all tied for last place). Typically, though, you’ll find that logical proofs of existence start from a set of things we know to exist, like rational numbers or medical professionals, and then show the existence of a distinct individual within the set. You will also notice that philosophical arguments for the existence of gods do not follow this pattern.

          • Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

            Why yes, I have noticed that very thing.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:10 am | Permalink

            Yes, but logically that is existence within the set or axiom system. You still have to go out and make a mapping between actual objects and the axioms/set. Even platonists do that, but they base their mapping on untestable faith, not inconsequentially to the analysis. :-D

            OTOH, if this wasn’t the case, there would never be a reason for people to be realists. We could prove simulated worlds for real, say.

  11. Neil
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Frankly, as Sisyphus should have said, I ain’t rolling this damn rock anymore.

  12. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I love it when Jerry Coyne does a nice job of Gutting.

  13. Glenn
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I like the 3 questions, but I think there’s one antecedent one that should also be asked:

    (1/2): What do you mean by “God”?

    I find a lot of people can’t even get this far.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Yup.

      You can’t believe an incoherent statement. Can’t be done. The incoherence defies a concrete statement of belief.

      But you can believe that you believe an incoherent statement.

      The belief in God can only persist so long as the believer doesn’t notice that incoherence.

      This is one of the reasons why I think some people can’t bring themselves to define what they mean when they say ‘God’. Anything they define, they can then analyze – and probably won’t believe it. But they surely believe in something right? But they can’t even put that something into words?

      Gee golly, God sure is mysterious! Darkness behind the light, just like Mr. Augustine said!

      >.<

      • Bryan
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

        Amen, brother. No rational theist can get beyond that point. That is, the god that most theists believe that they believe in is impossible in principle. While no rational person would become a theist until evidence for the existence of god as a matter of fact had been presented, the actual situation is that no one has yet postulated a coherent god, period (not even in principle).

  14. BaldApe
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    ISTM that philosophers can show why it is (or seems) reasonable to believe that something exists, but not provide evidence that it actually does. Arguments for the existence of god are arguments that it is reasonable to believe (although they fall short for me), but are not evidence in and of themselves.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Indeed, most of those arguments are simply begging the question. Or outright circular.

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        Let’s be fair.

        Some of them are fallacious arguments from analogy.

        Theologians are at the very least inventive when it comes to their choices of fallacy.

        Pity they couldn’t be a bit more inventive about their conclusions, though. ^_^

  15. Karen
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, folks, but there IS evidence, and Rod Dreher has it.

    http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/blogs/rod-dreher/ostrov-or-the-island#comments

    But as an ethical journalist, he’s bound by confidentiality not to reveal what it is. You have to admire someone with those ethics. He could change the world overnight. He and his family and all his descendents would never have to worry where there next meal was coming from. But he’s keeping his word not to tell. That’s just the kind of character that can’t be bought.

  16. Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    They will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science

    I’ve had this argument with people on numerous occasions. What they don’t realize is that it’s entirely circular – they’re assuming that conscious life thoughts, etc are immaterial.  (The word “qualia” inevitably makes an appearance at this point.) Of course, that’s also their conclusion. But they never offer any reason for us to believe that conscious thoughts are not material, they just assume it.

    • jdhuey
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Also, just because science doesn’t “fully understand” our conscious life does not mean that they don’t understand some things very well and one of those things is that our “conscious life” is dependent on our material brains and there is no evidence that the ‘mind’ is not ‘fully’ dependent on our brains.

  17. Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I dispute Jerry on one point –

    I want to talk about something that hasn’t yet come up: Gutting’s complete failure to show that we should take the existence of God seriously.

    I think that’s essentially all I said about Gutting. That was the sum total of my point: that he failed at that part and that therefore there was just no reason for us to pay any attention to the sophisticated arguments for god-as-simple.

  18. Darrell E
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    It never ceases to amaze me what “analyses and arguments” these high end philosophers of theology consider “sophisticated” and “cutting edge”.

    It really is pitiable that after all the effort spent on education, and all the time and effort spent on pondering such a bloated subject, the best they have to offer are things like “it may be the case that god is a necessary being”? These people are supposed to be experts in the subject of philosophy and yet any unbiased amateur can easily point out the logical fallacies in their best arguments for god by quick reference to the wikipedia fallacy article.

    Can they really not see that? I mean, they are supposedly trained to the highest degree to be able to spot and avoid logical fallacies are they not?

    And regardless of fallacies, their god arguments are so often so puerile. Do they really think that by dressing such infantile arguments up in such rare and noble verbiage that it magically makes the arguments sophisticated? Pared down to plain language my six year old boy could reason through why their arguments are “silly”.

    Gutting and his peers really should be ashamed of themselves for producing or supporting such shoddy “scholarship”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      “it may be the case that god is a necessary being”

      Yes, I was not even going to try to touch that one, as it is theology and if they want to base it on an outright fallacy instead of a hidden one, fine. :-o

      Worse in my eyes is that Gutting is making a gods-of-the-gaps argument against a fact! Here the fact of materialism. To translate his claim,

      “At this point, the dispute between gravitationists and agravitationists morphs into one of the most lively (and difficult) of current science debates—that between those who think falling is somehow reducible to general relativity and those who think it is not. This debate is far from settled and at least shows that gravity is not something graviationists can simply assert as an established fact. It follows that they have no good basis for treating the existence of magic falling as so improbable that it should be denied unless there is decisive proof for it. This in turn shows that gravitationists are at best entitled to be agnostics, seriously doubting but not denying the existence of magic.”

      And yet that is exactly what a fact is, it is a tested prediction beyond reasonable doubt that gravity exists, the question is settled. My claim is that the same goes for materialism, but that isn’t even consequential here. What matters is that Gutting reasons that observation of, say, gods-of-the-gaps possibilities, can push open gaps from settled questions to unsettled!

      This is not only not how empiricism works, as he should have or make “scholarship” enough to know, it is also shoddy reasoning indeed.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        … And of course “science debates” should have been “magic debates”.

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        Hahaha; the “argument” is something along the lines of:

        Some think that this spark plug came from a Toyota while others believe it came from a Rolls Royce. Since those two factions can’t agree, the existence of the sparkplug is dubious at best.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:25 am | Permalink

          Exactly, and thank you! That simplifies and removes to the bare bones.

          I’m going to want to steal that if need be, hope you don’t mind.

          [Also, beyond the analysis, in the narrower analogy the vehicle of religionists is a pumpkin coach.

          It may or may not exist, it may or may not use a spark plug as it is driven by magic/magic horses/whatever: “a single reality of pure perfection”.]

  19. justsearching
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Not directly on topic, but I’d like to see Dawkins and William Craig debate some time. Contrary to Dawkin’s assertions, William Craig is neither a creationist nor solely a professional debater. I think it would be fun to watch.

    • jdhuey
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Fun perhaps but, in the end, pointless. Craig has no interest in the truth, only in making debating points (and perhaps giving sop to those that already believe.)

      On the other hand, I’ve seen Dawkins have discussions (not debates) with people that disagree with him and those were both fun and enlightening.

      • Kingasaurus
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. To paraphrase Bob Price in his debate with Craig: WLC considers debates just his preferred form of witnessing. It isn’t a platform for a real exchange of ideas. It’s instead a continual attempt at orthodox damage control.

        If you think you’ve already got the “Truth” in your back pocket, using a debate to presumably help find the truth is pointless because you can’t be looking to find what you think you’ve already got.

        That’s what these professional theologians do when they simply assume God from the outset and don’t feel the need to show their work.

        • jdhuey
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

          That’s “Truth ™”

    • Tyro
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Maybe if it was written.

      But there’s more chance that Jesus will reappear and bless the Scientologists than an apologist would expose themselves like that.

      • jdhuey
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Au Contraire. Craig has frequently called for a debate with Dawkins. And why not, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Conversely, Dawkins gains nothing with a ‘win’ and, in fact, just debating Craig elevates the status of his arguments to crap that needs to be dealt with (up from crap that should be ignored).

        • Kingasaurus
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Craig doesn’t have much interest in written debates, because he can’t “win” without his in-person, carnival barker schtick. I’m not a skilled debater, but if you give me a written summary of Craig’s claims, I can easily tell you what’s fundamentally wrong with them and why they don’t pass muster. I’m also sure many other people could do much better at it than my mediocre effort.

          His beliefs and his way of defending them are nothing new. He’s just really good at playing smoke-and-mirrors and hide-the-ball in person.

          This is why he has such a great reputation among his fawning, co-believing sycophants, but hardly anyone else.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Tell you what – I’ll have a written debate with William Craig.

      I’d be happy to.

      And if Craig should dismiss me as not being worth his time – Hello!

      That’s how Dawkins feels about Craig – and rightly, in my view.

    • Galactor
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Craig is not a creationist?

      He has some nerve then, to teach at Talbot school of Theology whose doctrinal statement would suggest otherwise. On the admissions section of their website:

      “Talbot School of Theology has a history of strong evangelical Christian commitment and holds firmly to the inerrancy of the Bible. We require that an accepted applicant be an evangelical believer in agreement with our doctrinal statement.”

      The details of the doctrinal statement can be looked up. This is exactly the sort of reason why Dawkins would probably not stomach sitting next to the man – Dawkins once started a thread on his now redundant forum to indicate just how abhorrent he finds the kind of mind that is William Lane Craig.

      It probably won’t have helped Craig’s desire to engage Dawkins when Craig later slandered Dawkins with regard to the chapter in the God Delusion concerning child abuse. So much so, that when Dawkins discovered it, he asked whether there were grounds to sue.

      Moreover, Craig maintains that he is agnostic about evolution – whatever that means. You would think that someone who “uses” quantum mechanics and complex mathematics in their philosophy would have spent some considerable time in understanding the one main scientific discipline that destroys the existence of God.

      More to the point, Dawkins, I think, would scoff at the arguments that Craig tries to use and particularly the vacuous nonsense that God is a simple mind.

    • Tyro
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      If Craig or any other theist had any decent arguments for god or any rebuttals to TGD then they’ve had ample opportunity to present them. That they haven’t and their attacks boil down to “tone”, “respect” and the sort of whining that The Courtier’s Reply addresses, it’s clear they’ve nothing to offer and at some level they understand it.

      A debate presumes that there is an active controversy and that both sides are interested in seeking the truth. Neither apply in this case.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    As much as I sympathize with Jerry and Ophelia asking for evidence, it is encouraging to finally see someone trying to tackle Dawkins actual arguments. (It has been _4_ years!).

    So instead let me extract Gutting’s argument in as much as it differs from previous apologists:

    That is it. Instead of making the Courtier’s Reply (CR) outright and then go into theology, he starts off with making a strawman of Dawkins’ argument then dismissing it without answering before the obligatory CR. I disagree that it is even an ad hoc answer.

    What Dawkin’s said was not that a designer is complex but that it has information and thus is improbable. In other words, why posit an even more improbable, informative source? Who designed the designer but with a twist: who informed the informer?

    Here Gutting becomes absurd many times over.

    Dawkin’s is actually an empirical argument and needs an empirical answer, or it is worthless for us: a theological answer doesn’t answer where the information comes from. This is empirically unsatisfying.

    But even so, the theological answer removes its own basis, it is “the designer hypothesis” that posits that the universe doesn’t start out simple and gets complex, informed, as it goes, contrary to what we see. That is theologically unsatisfying.

    Finally, Gutting’s version of the theological answer, “simple”, belies the problem as it concerns information; it is the very non-sequitur he posits arose elsewhere. And that is logically unsatisfying.

    After this volley of mistaken analysis, Gutting quickly retreats into the theology he feels at home with. And yet again we are left with the question: why can’t any religionist try to answer Dawkins’ argument as it is?

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I know your final question was almost certainly rhetorical, but can I try to answer it anyway? I think that they believe that they have answered Dawkins’ arguments fully and adequately. And that is a serious fucking problem for our societies.

      Due to either fear, peer pressure, enculturation, indoctrination, ignorance, excessive romanticism, nostalgia run amok, and possibly in some cases genetic and or developmental conditions, or any combination there of ….. the religionists are so invested in their god beliefs that they are either willing to, or unaware that they do, misrepresent, spew fallacies they know better than to commit when arguing any other subject, and use or create arguments that if translated to another subject they themselves would likely scorn as being naively simplistic, when their god beliefs are challenged in any way.

      Whew. Was that all one sentence? I gotta learn how to write better.

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        Me English no write good!

        ^_^

        I think you’ve got the nail on the head – although I’d skew it in favor of incompetence as the null hypothesis, rather than malice.

        As I’ve noticed elsewhere: If we denied theologians their fallacies of assumption, there would be no theologians.

        In other words: In order to be a theologian in the first place, you have to already have accepted some form of fallacious reasoning – otherwise, you wouldn’t be a theologian. The population is self-selected into those who fail to see or don’t mind the fallacy of assumptions. So we shouldn’t be surprised that they make them so often.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      … and not that it changes anything in the excellent responses to my analysis, but I formulated it badly at one point. Dawkins’ book _also_ mentioned complexity. Gutting’s problem is that it is inconsequential to the broader argument.

  21. Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence. Therefore, an agnostic stance seems preferable [sic] atheism.

    Good point. Also, a vaccine-neutral stance seems preferable to pro-vaccination, for identical reasons.

    There are also people who think Gutting is a complete and total ass. Therefore, a Gutting-is-half-an-ass stance seems preferable.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      And some think that Gutting is a wit, and some don’t, therefore…

  22. Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I really wish somebody could make these people understand that atheists (or most of us, at least) don’t really make much of an argument against deism. Most of us happen to think it’s an idea that is unnecessary and irrelevant, and even a little bit silly… but we don’t really bother to mount any serious arguments against it. We shrug at deism.

    Probably 3/4 of all critiques of atheism would vanish if the people making the critiques could just fucking understand that.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Or instead admitted that no one is actually a deist. Seriously, why bother making a “religion” around a being that no longer interacts at all with the world? It would be like having rituals that praise Maxwell’s equations.

      • Darrell E
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know if there are any real deists, but I can’t imagine that a real deist would have much to say in any argument or debate about religion.

        I mean how much angst can you work up over something that you believe you can never know anything about, can never experience in any way, and which can have no effect whatsoever on the reality you inhabit?

        • Wowbagger
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Well, the only person I can think of who describes himself as a deist is John Kw*k – so make of that what you will…

          • Darrell E
            Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            That’s pretty funny. But, based on his blog persona, I don’t have much faith in his ability to assess himself though.

          • MadScientist
            Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

            I’ve met a number of deists; I think they’re just people who can’t let go of the supernatural. They’ll happily admit that the god they were taught about doesn’t exist but they hold onto an irrational belief that there must be something out there. Personally I can’t tell the difference between an ‘agnostic’ and a ‘deist’ – the one says a deist god cannot be proven to not exist (and thus refuses to believe that there are no gods at all) while the other professes to believe in this irrelevant supernatural entity. Humans are such funny animals.

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        “It would be like having rituals that praise Maxwell’s equations.”

        You say that as if it were a bad thing. :)

        • MadScientist
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Of course it would be a bad thing; the time could be spent on other things.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:37 am | Permalink

          We have, and it’s called a curriculum.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Just about the only gods which science and reason have not disproven are those gods which cannot formally be disproven because they are so distant, vague and nonparticipatory. I.e., gods who don’t matter. This is the point where I would go to a quote attributed to Delos McKown,

      The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Not to be confused with The Invisible, Nonexistent Group on Facebook.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        That quote has also been attributed to Thomas S. Vernon.

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Reminds me of something I heard James Randi say once. Went something like this:

        After an in depth investigation of [psychic claimant] we were able to conclude that they are indistinguishable from a genuine fraud.

        So:

        After an in depth investigation of [religion]’s metaphysical claims about God, we are able to conclude that they are indistinguishable from a work of fiction.

        ^_^

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      They’re all deists when they’re debating with atheists. They turn back into Christians when they say Grace before a meal or go to church.

      • Wowbagger
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Agreed – I’ve made that very observation myself on several occasions. I think I even tried to come up with an expression to illustrate it, something like ‘the degree to which a given believer’s god is interventionist is inversely proportional to the proximity of a gnu atheist at the time the discussion is taking place’.

        Perhaps someone more capable of math- and html-fu can turn that into an equation…

        • MadScientist
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          you mean like:

          \int_{-\inf}^{+\inf}\rho(God)dt = 0

          in conjunction with:

          For any given time t, \rho(God,t) = 0

          That rules out the “God delta” function from eq.(1), while eq.(1) confirms that no miracle happens to violate (2) to result in the existence of a god at any point in time.

          • Wowbagger
            Posted August 16, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

            I’ll take your word for it!

  23. Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    You say,”“I don’t see convincing evidence for God.” I say, ”I do not see convincing evidence that natural selection (premature death) ever created anything.” You say, “The existence of a deistic God—one who doesn’t do anything tangible—is forever beyond the purview of both philosophy and science.” Correct! The concept of creative intelligence as an aspect of nature is compatible with , but does not demand either theism or deism. 3.” How would you know if you were wrong?” This question is equally relevant to theists, deists and atheists. (It is irrelevant to agnostics, who aren’t even committed to all that stuff that might be wrong. And believe me, agnostics are as annoyed by evangelical atheists as theists are.)

    Our own intelligence is not regarded as supernatural, and if creative intelligence exists as an aspect of all living systems, I wouldn’t regard that as supernatural either. Consciousness may be nothing more than material, deterministic interaction of brain molecules, but until those interactions are understood, and creative intelligence is created in the laboratory, belief in such a concept is a matter of faith. And materialistic faith is no more scientific than any other faith.

    http://30145.myauthorste.com/

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      “I say, ”I do not see convincing evidence that natural selection (premature death) ever created anything.” ”

      Then you’re not looking.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think you understand the positions against which you are arguing. Either that or you are choosing to ignore the actual arguments for some reason.

      Science, the method, is a means of ascertaining traits of the existence that we inhabit. So far the methodologies of science have proven to be useful in doing so as our technologies, and our ability to make predictions about previously unknown traits that can then be observed to be as predicted, attest.

      And in all of the quite considerable body of knowledge that science has accumulated, all of the succesful theories (the scientific definition), there is nothing that hints at, or requires anything like the concept of the supernatural, or gods of any kind.

      As for faith, which definition are you using in your post? No faith of the type that theists believe in is necessary for a materialistic world view. Evidence and repeatable results are all that is necessary.

      By the way, why are you using faith in a perjorative manner?

      And materialistic faith is no more scientific than any other faith.

      I mean, you seem to be arguing the theist position, but you also seem to be acknowledging, with this statement, that faith is not laudable. I do agree, but if you can see that faith is bullshit when you (erroneously as it happens) consider it in conjunction with your opponents views, why can’t you see that the theists’ faith in the veracity of their god beliefs is also bullshit?

      Also, you are incorrect. A materialistic world view is absolutely supported by science.

      Some how I get the feeling that you will soon lay down the scientism epithet.

      • Posted August 17, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

        By the way, why are you using faith in a perjorative manner?

        Projection?

        ^_^

    • Chris
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the New Age. Where vacuity and incoherence equals profundity.

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

        But – that was equally true of the Golden Age, the Middle Ages, the Risorgimento, and so on. I guess every age was a New Age.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      I do not see convincing evidence that natural selection (premature death) ever created anything

      There’s this book I’ve heard of you might want to read…now if I could only remember its name…

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        Do you mean the book that has some vague resemblance to the name of the website?

        • Tulse
          Posted August 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          Wait…you mean the book also has a website?

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      You say,”“I don’t see convincing evidence for God.” I say, ”I do not see convincing evidence that natural selection (premature death) ever created anything.”

      IOW, we say you have no evidence, and you tacitly agree by not actually answering the accusation directly.

      thanks for the confirmation.

      you’re the epitome of everything we loathe about creationists.

      dishonest git.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Consciousness may be nothing more than material, deterministic interaction of brain molecules, but until those interactions are understood, and creative intelligence is created in the laboratory, belief in such a concept is a matter of faith.

      Shorter:

      My godz fits into ur gapz!

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        …If you need to make up a whole lot of bullshit to defend your beliefs, you might want to re-examine those beliefs.

        just sayin’.

    • Posted August 17, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink

      do not see convincing evidence that natural selection (premature death) ever created anything.

      Well – no. That’s not what evolution says, btw.

      The combination of reproduction with inheritance, variation, and selective pressures (such as natural selection) can ‘create’ anything, for a given definition of the word ‘create’.

      ” How would you know if you were wrong?” This question is equally relevant to theists, deists and atheists.

      You’re right – it’s relevant to atheists.

      Difference is, atheists can and do actually give an answer. Theists usually can’t or won’t.

      A good overview: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/07/what-would-convince-this-atheist-to-believe.html

      It is irrelevant to agnostics…

      Depends on the agnostic, and how they define the term.

      Even in the absence of any claim to knowledge, a person either does or does not have a belief. If they do or do not, they could still offer a method by which they might find out one way or the other.

      Of course, their answer might be “I couldn’t, and that’s why I call myself an agnostic” – but still, there’s an answer there. Not entirely irrelevant.

      Our own intelligence is not regarded as supernatural, and if creative intelligence exists as an aspect of all living systems, I wouldn’t regard that as supernatural either. Consciousness may be nothing more than material, deterministic interaction of brain molecules, but until those interactions are understood, and creative intelligence is created in the laboratory, belief in such a concept is a matter of faith. And materialistic faith is no more scientific than any other faith.

      Just because we don’t entirely understand something doesn’t mean we know nothing.

      And if we know something subject, we can bring to bear an educated conclusions about the subject.

      But if the alleged dichotomy (it may not be one, note) is between matter (of which we have ample evidence) or magic (of which we have none), I think we can achieve a reasonable conclusion about which of the two is the more justified.

      We know more than you think. Poking the brain leads to a change in consciousness. If a section of the brain is removed or damaged, the correlated aspects of consciousness are removed as well. Lends pretty strong support to the notion that whatever else consciousness is, its what the brain does. The way that pumping blood is what the heart does.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 4:46 am | Permalink

      This is specious for a creationist:

      The concept of creative intelligence as an aspect of nature is compatible with , but does not demand either theism or deism. … Our own intelligence is not regarded as supernatural, and if creative intelligence exists as an aspect of all living systems, I wouldn’t regard that as supernatural either.

      “Creative intelligence”, however it’s definition, isn’t a general aspect of nature, “intelligence” is a trait among others in a subset of animals. (Or as “collective intelligence” in subsets of bacteria and plants too.)

      Original creative intelligence is a narrower subset. It is displayed prominently in apes such as ourselves and chimps, which both have technologies: original creations that doesn’t exist in nature.

      You say,”“I don’t see convincing evidence for God.” I say, ”I do not see convincing evidence that natural selection (premature death) ever created anything.” … ” How would you know if you were wrong?” This question is equally relevant to theists, deists and atheists.

      First, the smaller strawman. Natural selection isn’t “premature death”. If anything it can be the reverse as it can be described as differential reproduction. Your description denies the positive fitness part of general fitness for exclusively negative fitness. So it is technically wrong AFAIU. Maybe you should read WEIT?

      Also, in your terms, selection is “creative” without intelligence, as it creates original traits out of variation and environmental constraints.

      Second, the larger strawman. We can tell when we are wrong about science as well as atheism.

      Science is simply a method, so its success tests that it isn’t wrong. Atheism is simply an observation of the form “stones falls to Earth”, so we can make lists over what would similarly reject it as unsuccessful, say stones falling up. See for example Daniel Schealler’s comment.

      The important thing is that in both cases the series of attempts of abject failure continues to fail. Or in other words, both works! And note that atheism is the stronger claim here, science may fail piecemeal while atheism hasn’t that luxury.

      [Technically that difference goes away if you make quantitative tests. But that is controversial, to say the least. Meanwhile atheism is stronger than necessary. Good for it! (¬_¬)]

      It is irrelevant to agnostics, who aren’t even committed to all that stuff that might be wrong. And believe me, agnostics are as annoyed by evangelical atheists as theists are.

      In general, and disregarding their acceptance or rejection of science, I would say that this is correct. Most versions of agnosticism relies on faith as much as other religious beliefs, it is in its very nature of an assumption disregarding observation and likelihood or testing both.

      It isn’t a far stretch to model their annoyance with atheism from that, in as much as general atheism rejects faith it tells them to their faces they are wrong. (^^^) [/shark chomp]

      Or in other words, your observation of annoyance tests that agnosticism _is_ an unfounded belief. How about that! 0-0

  24. Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    But who cares? I can’t conceive how philosophical argument alone, without any input of data, is going to prove—or even strongly suggest—that God exists.

    Indeed, it does seem odd that there are those who try to demonstrate an interventionist deity purely by rhetoric (or logical argument) alone. It’s a little sad that God comes down to getting definitions right, especially when this is meant to be a deity that has vested interest and interactivity in the affairs of this planet.

    • MadScientist
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      That’s right – the god of the Old Testament who ordered other tribes murdered and the women raped; the god that told Osama to murder thousands, the god that told Dubbyah to invade Iraq – see, the god still intervenes in human affairs and yet we cannot detect it.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      it does seem odd that there are those who try to demonstrate an interventionist deity purely by rhetoric (or logical argument) alone.

      not only that, but as demonstrated by Eric at Pharyngula, some take it one step further and say that if the rhetorical arguments can’t be logically defeated, using their own premises, then atheism itself is an invalid stance.

      mind boggling levels of denialism at work, IMO.

  25. MadScientist
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve used my own personal revelation that Gutting has simply been plagiarizing others and changing a few words and gawd has given me the correct revised text:

    [Religion] does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires. The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments [which absolutely all point to the fact that there is no god]. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one’s own intellectual problems. . . .

    Friends of Dawkins might object: “Why pay attention to what philosophers have to say when, notoriously, they [agree] regarding the ‘big questions’, particularly, the existence of God?” Because, [wealthy] or not, philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions [and all sensible philosophers at the very least conclude that the Abrahamic god as described cannot exist – this conclusion is reached independent of scientific inquiries into the nature of the world around us].

    There – divine revelation has fixed Gutting’s fuzzy-mindedness.

  26. Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey check out Taner Edis’s post (see comment 19) if you haven’t already. He couldn’t say “this is good so read it” but I can.

    • Badger3k
      Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      Try to avoid the comments, tho’ – between the guy posting excerpts on Greek philosophers/naturalists/whatever (don’t know why), to a real dimwitted poster with who posts machine-gun style…gah! A world o’stupid.

      (not everything, but after someone posted 5 or 6 times in a row with repeated inanity…my eyes glazed over)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 17, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      Hm. If I were a philosopher I would say that his argument defeated itself, as it suggested yet another layer of philosophy to build on the failed philosophy of religion “to help create space where philosophers and scientists outside the rationalistic tradition can hope for some more constructive accomplishments.”

      Also, as almost always I get a headache when philosophers try to describe science:

      In such a Bayesian approach, evidence is only eliminative, where what is needed is a way to use evidence as representative.

      It is accepted that bayesian methods are hypothesis generators “par excellence” to use Edis’ description. That is precisely why they are used in, say, standard cosmology or standard phylogeny.

      But what they do is use data to tell us what is representative (of a distribution), and we need testing to eliminate those possibilities (parameter sets in cosmology, topology sets in phylogeny).

      The problem with rationalist reasoning isn’t induction of hypotheses, the problem is the lack of deductive testing; it can’t tell fact from fiction. This is specifically pertinent to theology, as they like to substitute empiricism with cryptoinductivism (“prove it”).

      So I’m at a lack of understanding what Edis is trying to say at this point. Hypotheses aren’t intrinsically evil; if they are about the reasons the dragon kidnapped a princess it may make for good fantasy. Lack of testing is, if your purpose is to ponder about what is. But it is germane to philosophy.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 17, 2010 at 5:33 am | Permalink

        “to eliminate those possibilities” – to eliminate among those possibilities.

  27. Badger3k
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    “But philosophy is overrated here.”

    Uh-oh! I somehow think a certain triple doctorate philosopher will get his panties in a twist and write another scrawl soon.

    I think the argument for the material evidence of an immaterial being will be “he acts in life but makes it appear just as if he doesn’t exist at all – you can’t tell when he works.” Of course, that doesn’t answer the question, nor does it fit all the failed prayer, but it fits the get-out-of-jail mentality the believers prefer.

  28. ckitching
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to break with the crowd here, and give Gutting some credit. It appears that he has at least read Richard Dawkin’s book, although I cannot say if he understood it. Most of Dawkin’s critics fail to get beyond the name of the book.

    • Posted August 17, 2010 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      True.

      Reading comprehension is hard.

      So much easier to parrot scripture and stick to warm and fuzzy intuitions.

  29. Posted August 17, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I found the most sophisticated circle jerk in the blogosphere – The Prosblogion. A bunch of philosophy of science professors pleasuring each other. Of course they highlight Gutting’s posts, calling the first “nice” and saying “it’s nice to have some professional philosophy in mass media.” I’m guessing if Gnu Atheists used the word “nice” more, they might get more respect from professional philosophers.

    PS Check out the review of Signature in the Cell. Uff-da! That’s bad.

  30. Posted August 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Whoops, sorry! By “argument from illusion” of course I meant “problem of evil” – my only excuse is that I’m very tired…

    All best wishes,
    Simon

  31. J.C.
    Posted August 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    @ Norwegian Shooter,

    If you look at the Prosblogion site you’ll see most of the contributors complaining about Gutting’s piece, for lack of clarity on definition. This is far from a ‘circle jerk.’ The second post about Gutting, as of now, no contributor has even commented on that post. I don’t think it’s fair to say they’re doing their celebratory all around high-fiving with one another.


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