What Do You Think Of The Case Presented Below?

27 comments:

urbster1 said...

What about apologists (I'm thinking of for example migkillertwo, and Veritas48, mentioned in the video, who parrot WL Craig and JP Moreland) who claim that God is a disembodied mind that created the universe? That seems like a concrete answer and not 'nebulous,' unless "mind" is nebulous. I however am of the opinion that minds are the result of computer- or brain-like computing processes, and thus require a physical or material substance, since the only minds we know of are those with brains. On this view, a disembodied mind would seem impossible, and it surely has not been proven to exist. I don't think that that means the concept itself is nebulous, though, or that any believer is automatically an agnostic.

Corky said...

This book, Atheism: The Case Against God, is the first book that I read when I left Christianity.

It confirmed everything I had suspected and much more. The book is a "must have" for every atheist.

Spork In the Eye said...

I think the case holds water. However, I am probably in the minority of folks as I prefer the "agnostic" definition George Smith works with -- which is an epistemological definition. The traditional definition these days is "atheist light (less filling and tastes great)."

I second Corky's opinion of Smith's book. It is very Objectivist (which I find a plus). It also offers the Objectivist world view as an alternative to religion.

Jonathan Edwards Reincarnate said...

I think what he says is true of the mystics who have no positive knowledge of God. This isn't true of orthodox Christianity though.

stevec said...

It seems ok, but the requirement for a coherent definition might not be such a big deal of a requirement.

For example, if I have a sack, it might be the case that there's obviously something in the sack, but you don't know what it is. So the definition is "whatever's in the sack." One could agree that whatever's in the sack exists without having much idea about what it was.

Or, in the movie, "the god's must be crazy," the coke bottle came from *somewhere*.

As for believers being agnostics... most atheists, myself included, are agnostics as well. Agnosticism is orthogonal to atheism and theism, not a point on a line midway between them, though this may not be the way it was meant in the video (hard to tell.)

DenCol said...

This video is so extremley ignorant and laughable beyond words. This guy is like a dog trying to define the sense of humor. The same reason that dogs do not laugh is the same reason that atheists do not understand God. Dog's have no sense of humor and atheists have no sense of God. It is really that simple.

Explaining God to an atheist is like explaining a joke to my dog. He just won't get it, no matter how hard I try. If the dog can be "born again" as a human, then he will get the joke. Until then, he remains clueless.

sasamat said...

The idea that something that is not linguistically expressible is thus not intelligible is seriously outdated. It comes from the early 20th century development of logical positivism into 'analytical' philosophy.

In fact the first five minutes of the video, and presumably the 'Atheism: The Case Against God' book sound like something the analytical philosopher AJ Ayer could have written.

Much of it ultimately comes from early Wittgenstein... unfortunately for this argument, later Wittgenstein shows why it's bunk.

DenCol said...

The more I read on this blog, the more convinced of God I become!

Rob R said...

He's absolutely right in the first half in his statement that the what God is [like], is prior to God's existence.

I would not put stock in his claim about a "positive ontology". For one, there's much in our common experience that perhaps we couldn't clearly give a positive ontology. Take the color blue. What's the positive ontology of it? Well, we could say it's a visual sensation. So is the same thing as the color red because that's also a visual sensation? Can you explain to blind man from birth what the color blue is so that if he were to be cured, he could look at something blue and recognize it (and explain it without cheating by saying "blue's what you see when you look up outside when there are no clouds). You could talk about wavelengths of light, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the subjective experience that is assigned to certain wavelengths of light.

For another example lets take physics. Better yet, not the physics one learns in school, but the most basic and fundamental physics that scientists are trying to uncover. It is nebulous and unknown to us, and yet, we speak physical things all the time. How can we know of these physical things, how can we speak of them when the most basic and fundamental part of it is not known to us, let alone it's primary attributes. Perhaps I don't fully understand what he's getting at with a positive ontology, but perhaps then he should give us more of a positive ontology of what a positive ontology is.


It would seem to me that ProfMTH in his zeal to find standards to rule out the rationality of the concept of God risks ruling out to much.


I also suspect that another problem with his approach is that he is treating God as an object and not a subject or person. We can know persons by their actions, by their personal relationships and by their history. This is what scripture gives us and this gives us much substantively to talk about. Of course, I do believe that if we could provide a thorough ontology of God, personhood would be at the core.

openlyatheist said...

I think that guy looks like Mike from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

BJ said...

I liked how ProfMTH gave examples of secondary attributes and relational attributes, and I wish he had done the same for primary attributes. Can someone give me an example of a primary attribute? ProfMTH stated it's "the fundamental or basic nature of the thing one is talking about" (6:17 into the video).

I'm guessing they are attributes that could be verified empirically. Like I am a human male sitting in an office in DC. Am I on the right track?

bart willruth said...

I heartily endorse the views in the video and the book "Atheism, the Case Against God" on which it is based. This book has been one of my most valued inclusions in my library for over 25 years and helped me clarify my thougts during my examination of theism and Christianity.

A concept qua concept must contain something of a positive nature. To suggest that sandstone exists is to assert something with clear attributes. It is a material composed of compressed silica usually found in areas of previously submerged seabeds. Of course, the atomic makeup of silica could be clarified as well as the measurement of pressure required to form individual particles into larger forms we call sandstone. In short, each and every concept we have relating to an existant, has and must have content in order to be intelligible.

Some have mentioned in their comments that there is positive content in the orthodox "definition" of God. I would suggest to them that they consult any standard theological dictionary and they will search in vain for any positive content for the concept of God.

The normal procedure is to suggest two lines of definition:

"The positive way" indicating such characteristics of God as love, justice, power, longsuffering, angry, judgmental, knowledgable, creative, jealous, etc. These are human characteristics, but they are secondary as such and based upon the ontological reality of the concept "human." Unless God is positively identified as a human, or just a vastly superior but similar ontological being to a human, these secondary characteristics are meaningless in terms of adding content to the concept "God."

"The negative way" is the attempt to smuggle in the appearance of actual content to the concept of God. It is expressed in terms of what God is not:

Immaterial: not composed of matter
Invisible
Ineffable
Incomprehensible
Not subject to time
Without limits

All the characteristics offered in the negative way simply explain that God lacks characteristics which are necessary to form a concept. In fact, using the negative way, simply substitute the word "nothing" for the word "God" and the effect is the same. The concept of "nothing" is indistinguishable from the concept of "God."

chuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chuck said...

Hi John and friends,
I like it.
It heads off a good bit of theist hot air at the start.
Insisting on pinning down a god definition is a nice tactic, it's fairly rarely used, AND perfectly fair.
I think the best arguments against theism are succinct ones. They are more clear.
A Christian, who wants to be an debater, must be as skilled as OJ's attorneys. Skilled at a shell game of specialized acane theological jargon. Deft semantic tap dancing is their only hope to emerge not looking like a superstitious fool.
The skeptic merely remains unconvinced..

Steven said...

I think the argument has merit, and is on the right track, but I think it may need a little reworking to close up some holes.

For example, in astronomy, we have this stuff called dark matter. Over the last several decades, we have collected a great deal of indirect evidence pointing to the existence of dark matter by noting its impact on what we can see, but we still don't really know what it is. The evidence is indeed strong enough to draw a reliable conclusion that there is something there without knowing what exactly it is.

In other words, we can indeed make strong inferences for the existence of something based on observable secondary properties. However, this doesn't mean that the theist is off the hook. In the case of dark matter, we are making an inference with a very limited scope, and we are only attributing properties to this substance that we can actually verify.

In contrast, the theist wants to attribute both mundane and supernatural properties to their deity but all of these are impossible to verify in any remotely reliable way. For example, we have never encountered any entity that creates universes. The theist assumes that their deity has this property, but they can't show this to true, and in fact, they don't know if it is true at all. We have a better chance of correctly inferring that DenCol confirms Mark Twain's definition of insanity than we do DenCol's assertions about his deity.

Teleprompter said...

I have always enjoyed ProfMTH's work.

I also heartily recommend both his "Jesus Was Wrong" series and his "Jesus Was Not the Messiah" series. Most of his work makes for excellent viewing, especially those two series.

That said, I agree with Spork in the Eye's definition of agnosticism as an epistemological definition, rather than the popular conception of a mid-point between theism and atheism, or atheist-lite.

Oh Dencol, why don't you try explaining God to Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, or Jews? They don't seem to have a problem with gods, but they still don't seem to understand your God. Explain that away for us.

sasamat said that:

"The idea that something that is not linguistically expressible is thus not intelligible is seriously outdated."

I agree here, but in reply I cite the following excellent response from Steven:

"In other words, we can indeed make strong inferences for the existence of something based on observable secondary properties. However, this doesn't mean that the theist is off the hook. In the case of dark matter, we are making an inference with a very limited scope, and we are only attributing properties to this substance that we can actually verify.

In contrast, the theist wants to attribute both mundane and supernatural properties to their deity but all of these are impossible to verify in any remotely reliable way. For example, we have never encountered any entity that creates universes. The theist assumes that their deity has this property, but they can't show this to true, and in fact, they don't know if it is true at all."

Steven, would you mind if I used that, albeit with attribution? I really like it.

Steven said...

Teleprompter,

Use away. Don't worry too much about attributions, the argument stands independently of who says it, and I'm not so vain that I need credit for it.

Rob R said...

.
Teleprompter,


In other words, we can indeed make strong inferences for the existence of something based on observable secondary properties. However, this doesn't mean that the theist is off the hook. In the case of dark matter, we are making an inference with a very limited scope, and we are only attributing properties to this substance that we can actually verify.



It completely and 100 percent gets off the hook with this argument.

The issue you raise is a different one. profmth is making an issue of definition, you are making an issue of verifiability. As prof rightfully noted, definition is prior to veryfiability. What prof states (that is completely unverifiable by the way) is that the definition has to be of a certain sort. Enough has been said against it here (including from you thank you much).

As for the issue you raise, I'd say you standard of what is reliable is your subjective preference. If you expect that the standard of verifiability should match that of dark matter, I'd like to see that standard for knowledge itself to be verified as well as the existence of dark matter. Good luck on getting any scientific journal to publish that paper.

Steven said...

Rob,

The point of my original post was to note the weakness in prof's presentation, and comment on what is needed to shore it up.

A definition of God is still needed before one can begin to verify it. The point of my post was to show that one can infer the existence of something without knowing everything about it, but only by finding a way to logically exclude every other possibility, and then that definition is severely limited to only those properties that you can exclusively identify. Dark matter can and probably does have other properties beyond being electromagnetically inert and gravitationally active, but we can't say what those properties are without additional information. These two properties are the only ones that we can reliably identify, everything else is guesswork.

This is how the problem for the theist is revealed. They can not define deities into existence by exclusion. The properties that they want to attribute to their deity are far too broad to be able to gain the exclusivity that is required.

Theists are definitely not off the hook.

Teleprompter said...

Rob R,

I respectfully ask:

What???

So my standard of what is reliable is subjective preference, eh?

So if I tell you that if you jump out the window, magical forces will capture you and prevent you from falling, yet I fail to provide you with any tangible evidence of this, would you still be warranted to not jump? Or is your standard of what is reliable too arbitrary?

Rob R said...

.
Steven,


A definition of God is still needed before one can begin to verify it.

I agree that a definition of God is needed. I disagreed on the requirements of that definition of which you agreed. And I maintain that you did not shore up his argument. You offered a different one.


but only by finding a way to logically exclude every other possibility


But this needs to be argued for. Why must we show that every other possibility is ruled out by the strictist standards of logic. Why can't we settle for good reasons, that may not be logically necessary, but are still reasonable. What logically necessary reason can you provide that leads us to accept that we must find a way "to logically exclude every other possibility?"

These two properties are the only ones that we can reliably identify, everything else is guesswork.

All we know of dark matter is mathmatical. But Yahweh is a person. Knowledge of a person is more complex and subjectively tingened than knowledge of some mathematically circumscribed observations.


They can not define deities into existence by exclusion. The properties that they want to attribute to their deity are far too broad to be able to gain the exclusivity that is required.


It's been a mistake of much of scholastic theology to place so much emphasis on knowing God by what he isn't. This is one extreme that's also been emphasized in some eastern traditions. But the scriptural question is what sort of person God is and what he has done. It is not meaningless in the slightest to say that God is the creator of life and that he is a law giver. It's not meaningless in the slightest to say that God is a redeamer and so on. And of course, all of that needs explanation and scripture provides material for the task. And it certainly provides much information by which we may logically distinguish Yahweh from the other descriptions of God or from other entities in existence.




Teleprompter,


I geuss I was really responding to steven while I thought I was responding to you.

anyhow,


So my standard of what is reliable is subjective preference, eh?


I'd say the stringency of the standard that Stephen mentioned that you repeated, insisting that God is as verifiable as a physical entity on the grounds of science is an indefensible claim. You can prefer it, but it boils down to a preference that can't be defended by those very standards.



So if I tell you that if you jump out the window, magical forces will capture you and prevent you from falling, yet I fail to provide you with any tangible evidence of this, would you still be warranted to not jump? Or is your standard of what is reliable too arbitrary?


What do you mean by tangeable evidence? And what does it have to do with religious claims? For a blogger to make such a random claim hardly compares to the historical and existential claims of Christianity. Now if you were to discuss effectively what the shape of our world is as we humans experience it like our desire for justice, our spiritual tendencies, the intrinsic worth we find in each other and community, our awe and wonder at beauty in the universe, our valuing of history and our thirst for truth in general and then offer an explanation that enhances these sources of meaningfulness and fits the world which we live in, you'd have a worthwhile comparison to what I believe. Since your random silly claim doesn't do any of that, it suffers for a reductio ad absurdem.

Steven said...

Rob,

My post was in support of the profs' an addendum, if you will. It does shore up at least one short coming, which you agree is a shortcoming. What you haven't said is why you think my addition fails.

Why must you be able to logically exclude other possibilities? Because the other possibilities are more plausible and more probable than your explanation. So you have to find a way to logically exclude those other possibilities.

And for the record, dark matter is not a purely mathematical entity. You may not be aware of this, but we now have empirical evidence for it that excludes mathematical modifications to existing theory. Google the bullet cluster if you're interested.

Knowledge of a person is more complex and subjectively tingened than knowledge of some mathematically circumscribed observations.

That is exactly my point. You don't even know that your deity is really a person. You have only your conjecture and your personal unverifiable anecdotes to support that position. And I can point to literally millions of people who have similar types of experiences that completely contradict your interpretation, as much as they contradict each other. You are one in a sea of millions of contradictory stories.

This is why you have to be able to logically exclude the "false" beliefs, you cannot assume your position probabilistically because the probabilities are spread between too many possibilities. You have to narrow your scope, which also means you lose detail. The dead end result are the cosmological arguments that ultimately prove nothing about god at all, but only show that god exists (if you can find a way to support the flimsy premises).

It is not meaningless in the slightest to say that God is the creator of life and that he is a law giver. It's not meaningless in the slightest to say that God is a redeamer and so on. And of course, all of that needs explanation and scripture provides material for the task.

You're right it's not meaningless to say any of those things. It becomes meaningless though, when no one can agree on what any of that means. Because it then becomes clear that no one really knows what that means. Which brings us right back to profs' point that Christians are really agnostics in disguise.

And it certainly provides much information by which we may logically distinguish Yahweh from the other descriptions of God or from other entities in existence.

Yes it does, but only in the following way: Call me when you can provide verifiable evidence for any of it.

Rob R said...

.

post 1 of 2


What you haven't said is why you think my addition fails.


I see what you are saying. I was viewing the requirement for a positive ontology as the heart of the argument, and that argument was unraveled by you (and I think by me before that). You are still focussing on the definition issue but allow for that which is verifiable like the effects of dark matter (if not the "positive ontology" of dark matter) to stand in for a the definition. I stand by what I said against this, but I don't think that is all that can be said against it.

We can and do speak meaningfully of fictitious entities whether they are crisply defined or as nebulously defined as dark matter is. Consider star trek technology like the dilithium crystals (which only recently, a string theorist I read of at popsci mentioned that he figured out that dilithium crystals if real, would be composed of negative mass (which if we had it on earth, would fall up). You may not say that makes much sense, but it makes enough sense to me, and no doubt more sense to a string theorist.

Now I would assume you have enough sense to know that using the nature of fictitious entities to defend speaking of God doesn't imply that God is also fictitious (because there are so many people out there who would jump on that point). the point is about concepts (be they fictional or real) and how we can speak of them meaningfully.

My first argument against your addendum focused on the subjective nature of what qualifies as verifiability. I wouldn't disagree that the existence of Dark matter has probably been verified, but the idea that the observation and mathamatics behind it represents the minimum and type for verifiability is an unverifiable preference.


Why must you be able to logically exclude other possibilities? Because the other possibilities are more plausible and more probable than your explanation.


And what scientific journal did you read of the formulas and observations that demonstrated the improbability of God? So just what is the probability of God? Do you have the calculated percentage to put on it? Does the national academy of sciences know about this, when they hold that science does not necessarily rule out the existence of God (ruling out the need for those pesky ID theorists)?

I'm wondering if any of these journals have also mathematically figured out the intrinsic worth of individual humans, truth, beauty, morality and so on.



So you have to find a way to logically exclude those other possibilities.


And my earlier question stands. Why can't we just settle for good reason that happens to be logically coherent? Why must the other options be ruled out absolutely? Why is it so irrational to think that we might have to choose because logic considerations aren't enough to decide the issue for us?



And for the record, dark matter is not a purely mathematical entity.



I know. poor choice of words on my part.


That is exactly my point. You don't even know that your deity is really a person. You have only your conjecture and your personal unverifiable anecdotes to support that position.


No, that is exactly and precisely what I know based not just on experience but reason and scripture. You may think that I don't know whether or not he exists, but if we are speaking about what diety, there is no confusion here. It is the one that scripture speaks about That created the world, made a creature similar to himself, exercises a degree, of sovereignty, holds unlimited power, has a very specific and informative history with Israel culminating in sending the Messiah through whom we come to realize that God is the embodiment of community and love.

Rob R said...

.
post 2 of 3



And I can point to literally millions of people who have similar types of experiences that completely contradict your interpretation, as much as they contradict each other. You are one in a sea of millions of contradictory stories.


Actually, I doubt you can point to a single one that I can't accommodate somehow. And if I in my understanding of the world or God or humanity cannot effectively accomodate it, then i may be able to change my view on any of those things in a non-detrimental way and perhaps an improvement in my understanding will come along. But of course I have had crisises of faith where a significant improvement was needed, and a significant improvement was found (but that didn't have to do with anyone's personal experience but a scriptural issue). Back to Experience specifically, it must be interpreted and we are not always the masters of interpreting our own experience, so why shouldn't I be able to interpret someone else's experience as false/deceptive, or simply interpreted wrong? Maybe I'm wrong, but wallowing in the generalities hardly gets us to that conclusion.



This is why you have to be able to logically exclude the "false" beliefs, you cannot assume your position probabilistically because the probabilities are spread between too many possibilities.


Or we can look at the shape of the world, look at the possible answers, and see what's the best fit, while maintaining a concern for logical coherence, even if logic doesn't necessitate any particular answer. I just don't see the problem with this.

Rob R said...

.

post 3 of 3


The dead end result are the cosmological arguments that ultimately prove nothing about god at all, but only show that god exists (if you can find a way to support the flimsy premises).


You know, from cosmological arguments to ID arguments (both of which I'm sympathetic to) they fall short since there's just so much more that can be said that is so much more epistemically basic than what wallowing in the natural sciences can tell us. Whether or not we can demonstrate the need for a creator in the physical universe takes a back seat to explaining the things that give life meaning. Life is meaningful, and those who do not start from that point have not started from a human point of view and do not have an epistemic approach for persons. Life is meaningful. This is the only starting point worth considering because if it's not true, then nothing matters including truth. Psychologically healthy people know that life is meaningful, damaged people have a hard time grasping it. What is the shape of this meaningfulness? What is the depth of it? Is materialism really good fit or is it a poor companion which would ultimately suggest that meaningfulness is one of illusions and/or part of the derived illusions to drive natural selection to preserve genes. Or does it make more sense that the depth and gravity of the sacredness of humanity and the worth of individuals and communities as we know them is because we are like God, created to be like God which explains the incredible value and worth of humans?

To ignore the most profound aspects of our subjective experience and treat them as nothing more than mere subjectivity and illusory is epistemically naive. It's ignored on the basis of an arbitrary preference for our subjective experience of the objective (after all, all objective truth is second hand information we receive through subjective experience).


It becomes meaningless though, when no one can agree on what any of that means.

My experience contradicts your claim, so if we hold to your earlier claim about the significance of contradictory experience, then we'd have to abandon what you say. In much of the christian community, we have enough common ground on who God is to have a meaningful discussion. Of course, within smaller groups within Christianity, agreement increases.

But If differences meant we couldn't have a meaningful discussion, then what you are saying is that we can't discuss differences. Well, the reality is that disagreements are quite the hot topic.


Call me when you can provide verifiable evidence for any of it.


And you let me know when you can verify your standards of verifiability as necessary for all knowledge in a non-self defeating way.

M. Tully said...

Urbster1,

"What about apologists ... who claim that God is a disembodied mind that created the universe?"

First, you'd have to define disembodied mind. Second, A disembodied anything has never been demonstrated, so the odds already are way against you. And three, "that created the universe" only tells me what you think it did, not what it is.

That is what I would say to those apologists.

M. Tully said...

Steve c,

What evidence are we using to say there is something in the sack?

Size, shape, weight? These can all be empirically confirmed.

But, now tell me you have a size-less, shapeless, weightless thing in the bag?

No, I don't think we'll agree that there is something in there?

You still must answer, "What is this size-less, shapeless, weightless thing?"