Is atheism non-belief or disbelief?

The post Fire-breathing gods has several dead-beaten horses and fuel for several posts. Here's one post from the fuel.

I gave a quote from Richard Dawkins, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." (From the essay, "The Great Convergence" p. 150, of the book "The Devil's Chaplain").

Here is a discrepancy I would like to clarify. Repeatedly, Dawkins and other atheists argue that atheism is simply non-belief. Therefore, the onus is for theists to substantiate their beliefs and atheists can just wait (assumingly forever) for this to happen. Dawkins, though, is all about "reason and science". See http://RichardDawkins.net for what Dawkins is about. Is atheism, especially the kind that Dawkins employs, casual non-belief or disbelief?

By using non-belief, one can be guarded. It's not so confrontational, but it's also a bit more secure and for such an ardent atheist like Dawkins, it's an agnostic stance. It says, "If you show me the evidence, I'll accept your beliefs". I have to believe that in Dawkins' quote, outlined above, he is asking, or assuming, that (mono)theists should make an atheistic stance about these other gods and not an agnostic stance. If they made an atheistic stance---that they really disbelieve these other proposed gods---then these theists would surely see their own errors in their own stance. However, when Dawkins and other theists use the agnostic stance that atheism is simply non-belief, in this day and age when religion is all around us, it is off the mark.

Now, of course, Richard Dawkins needs to carefully measure everything he speaks and writes and try not to preach to his choir of atheists if he really wants to convert theists or have his words twisted. He also needs to be careful to not offend theists if he really wants to convert them. I'm playing the same game without near the celebrity.

However, I will say this. Atheism, in this day and age when religion is all around us, is not simple non-belief. Ignorance is non-belief. Atheism is a conscious decision to disregard the gods and theology proposed in different religions. It's disbelief. It's making a stand and saying, "Your theistic belief system is bunk, and here is why I think so." The irony is that such a stance is the creation of another belief system which can turn itself into a religion.

25 comments:

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Tom,

Well by your definitions then I am agnostic and so is Dawkins. Actually that is what Dawkins himself says - It's in God Delusion - I think he states that it is imposible to prove the non existence of anything therefore technically he is agnostic.

He then goes on to discuss agnosticism and the fact that this does not imply 50/50 odds.

My wife is an atheist.

I am a pretty strong agnostic and if we narrow the god to the Christian god then I am 99.99999% agnostic.

Mainly because of the Bible.

salient said...

"The irony is that such a stance is the creation of another belief system which can turn itself into a religion."

Oh, puh-lease, not another atheist falling for the theists' atheism- is-another-religion fallacy!

Atheism is either nonbelief in purported supernatural deities or belief that the supernatural does not exist. This is a philosophical position based on evidence and not the foundation for a new religion.

Consider for a moment all the religious trimmings that are required to dupe otherwise moderately intelligent people into believing in the supernatural against all the evidence (no longer merely in the absence of evidence).

The only organizations necessary to introduce and sustain agnosticism or atheism are schools and libraries.

7K said...

What does it mean to "believe" in something? For that matter, what is "religion?"

It seems to me that belief is just something I put confidence in. If you are confident there is no God and that the supernatural doesn't exist, then that is a belief. You are also strongly convinced of it because you see no "evidence." The lack of evidence at least compels you not to waste time believing in a God that is invisible. I mean, that prospect is incredibly brazen when you think of it.

"Religion", to me, is probably any organized approach to worship, and usually results in some code of ethics along with a system of rituals and traditions. Atheists, I would say, enjoy a certain freedom from these things; and I find that enviable.

I'm not really sure Christ was out to establish the religion that bears his name. In that sense, perhaps he was a kind of atheist, or at least a non-religionist. It was the religious who basically plotted to have him crucified.

Modernism is a comfy place for atheists, because it reinforces the idea that all there is is the material, the observable, the quantifiable. So, in a modern age, many people love horror as entertainment, because there is something in us that wants the supernatural, or at least thinks there is something to it.

So maybe atheism can disconnect from religion, which at times is a laudable and right thing to do. A friend of mine who just died used to like this quote from a sci-fi author (Asimov?): "Don't let your morals get in the way of doing what's right." Somehow I can almost hear Jesus saying "Amen."
Religion gets in the way of faith and also tends to obscure it.

But the atheist has to decide on some ethical system: we all do. Without it we wind up in somebody's prison, and rightly so. So what is the atheist's "religion?" Is it another kind of worship? I have thought before there is a similarity in pantheism and atheism since pantheism thinks God is all things. That is a materialism on steroids. Atheism just says it the other way around, all things are not God, but they are all there is.

I am hearing you guys say there is no proof of anything supernatural, so why even waste time with it? Then you come across someone like Mortimer Adler, the philosopher, who said God can be proven. Maybe all we are left with is our beliefs, which is a post-modern concept: all our realities are the product of language.

Why is it like that? I think that's the next question. If there is a God, I think he like scientists and atheists like you guys. You are obviously not evil. What's wrong with seriously wanting truth, no matter how you look for it?

But Pilate said to Jesus, "What is truth?" All the world wrestles with that problem.

Tom said...

Hi Salient,

"Religion", to me, means a belief system which one holds, tries to instill in others (at least their children), and builds a community around. This blog, and yours too, falls into this category, albeit we have a small, tenuous following. Admittedly, a business proposal could even fall into this category. Perhaps the magnitude of the ideology, the allegiance, and its social implications cross some threshold where we can see the transition from a belief system to a full on religion, but I don't know where that line is.

Atheism as non-belief cannot really make a religion because it lacks the belief system to even construct a religion. I'd rather dub this stance agnosticism.

However, if one takes a stand to say X, Y, or Z belief system is bunk, a more substantial claim is made. The opinions are stronger and not so passive. The rub is that one is likely to seek support amongst like believers and prove, to some degree, how such an opinion is superior to others who disagree. This is when atheism becomes a religion (or at least a religion to the community of the single person with such a belief system).

The point is disbelief is belief --- belief against others' belief.

Atheists' appeal to theists to use reason and evidence to justify their claims falls short if they employ non-belief. A believer feels God which is reason enough for them to believe. Why should they opt for non-belief when what they have feels so real? That is, the evidence, to them, is substantial, but it is so personal that they cannot convince an atheist of such "proof".

If Dawkins (or other atheists) want theists to cast away their God(s) based on reason and evidence, the non-belief stance does not work. Disbelief, and who knows how it can be presented in a non-confrontational let alone appealing way, is the only way to convert theists rationally. Give them a reason to understand that their belief system is faulty rather than play this game of "show me the evidence and then I'll believe you". There is nothing in that argument except a way for them to validate faith.

I am a disbeliever of theism, especially Christianity which I'm most familiar. Perhaps its a "philosophical position based on evidence", as you propose, but I hope to convince my children, friends, and other readers of this blog of my opinions. If I had a Dawkins following and I was generating a movement, it might start to feel like a true religion.

Tom said...

Psi,

Even if you're 99.9999% agnostic, why not follow Pascal's wager? What are you going to give up if you can still be the rational scientist like Gordon and Cliff and have that redemption? What's really holding you back?

psiloiordinary said...

A couple of questions;

How on earth can my comment that "I see no evidence for your god" a belief system?

Why on earth do you need a religion for an ethical system?

Have you really never heard any of the answers to Pascal?

Hint - which of the 3,000 gods in human society do you want me to bet on?

Hint - why not believe in Leprechauns - you may get a pot of gold and it costs you nothing?

Tom said...

How on earth can my comment that "I see no evidence for your god" [induce/challenge?] a belief system?

There is nothing directly in that comment that will induce a particular belief system in you or conflict with another's belief system. It is a tepid, agnostic stance that serves to potentially answer curiosities you might have of believers and mildly challenge them, but really it will only validate their faith.

Why on earth do you need a religion for an ethical system?

7K brought in ethics as part of the definition of religion. My definition of religion does not necessarily include ethics and I do not believe religion is required for ethics.

Have you really never heard any of the answers to Pascal? Hint - which of the 3,000 gods in human society do you want me to bet on? Hint - why not believe in Leprechauns - you may get a pot of gold and it costs you nothing?

Okay, divide 99.9999% by 3000. If it really costs you nothing, no ridicule, no cognitive dissonance, no arguments with friends, then do the Leprechauns! If the Christian God offers literally an infinite joy, I'd rather bank on that over the pot of gold. What does it cost you to take up Cliff's, 7K's, and Gordon's battle if, as they claim, you can have a wonderful experience and maintain rational scientific perspective?

psiloiordinary said...

Oh OK then I'll just believe.


- - -


Oh dear.



- - -

I appear to be unable to chose to believe in something without any evidence.

Oh hang n - that's where the conversation started isn't it ;-)

Come on folks - none of you have answered why don't you believe in Leprechauns folks? Think of the gold - and it costs you nothing.

7K said...

"Come on folks - none of you have answered why don't you believe in Leprechauns folks? Think of the gold - and it costs you nothing."

So we are conflicted in this group as to what constitutes "belief" and what exactly is "religion."

I think part of my point was that Jesus challenged religionists: but it is unfair to say that ALL religion is bad. Religion is the outward performance of our inward faith, and can take many forms. That is, it is the organization that arises out of our devotion to something: that explains mystery, creates ethical modes, and sets up practices and doctrines.

So atheism might generate certain ways of doing things, a certain limiting approach to mystery (just the facts, Ma'am), a certain approach to ethical concepts, and an approach to life with its own doctrines, heroes, and practices. Lines drawn in the sand: behavioral taboos for atheists like "don't consider supernatural evidence."

Anyway, as myths or fairy tales, Leprechauns vs Jewish and Christian history is for me a pretty lame comparison. There may be no difference in validity to you, but there certainly is to me. Now, if you were comparing Leprechauns to extra-terrestrials, I would tend to think that might be a valid comparison. But does this simply reflect my Christian bias? Possibly, in some way, a little.

Buddhism might be a better comparative study. I respect Buddhists for a number of things: for one thing they seem to be better peacemakers than Christians. Our religion has become very divisive, within and without. We fight each other and we fight our surrounding cultures.

I have a book somewhere called the "Tao of Christ" by a Buddhist monk who changed to Orthodox monk. He compared the sayings of one of the Buddhist masters to Christ's words and they were amazingly identical.

But back to the Atheist "religion," I might ask, is there a devotion implied? Is it possible that, as an atheist, one has to don some kind of blinders, to filter out any serious consideration of oppositional information?

I was only an atheist as a youth. I didn't have a lot of sense then, or at least experience. But my atheist construct made or caused me to seriously despise Christianity. Maybe it was just that the religion is so ubiquitous in America. My atheism made me defensive.

I made the mistake, you might say, of actually studying the Bible. For instance, I reached a point where I would swear with the name of Jesus and God and was thinking, how hypocritical is that of me as an atheist. I should stop referring to them at all. It was curious to me that we don't use Buddha's or Mohammed's name that way. We can't, I guess. There's no taboo associated with it. I think, too, that I was discovering that no matter what I believe or do, it tends to hypocrisy.

What happened, I think I'm trying to say, is that I seriously tried on the theist information: crossed the artificial boundaries around me. It was then that the association happened, that God became credible, then logical, and belief was inescapable.

Tom said...

I think Psi hit on something with his use of the word "cost". Ideologies are built the same way organisms evolve, through cost functions. The reason one can accept Christianity, Buddhism, or other more established religions over Leprechaunism is that it provides answers where there are gaps (I'll explore God-of-the-gaps more in future posts) and offers more substantial rewards.

I will detail why I don't believe in Leprechauns in the next post.

Now, what is particularly interesting about Christianity is the expectation that one will find the theology hard to swallow and that one could expect to be persecuted for these beliefs. It's part of the "good news"! (Matt 5:9-12, 24:8-10, for example).

One cost with faith is cognitive dissonance in being unable to rationalize one's stance. This can be really minimized when the expectation is that it will not make complete sense and persecutions for the stance come in. When the world responds as we expect, the cost is not so great, and this eternal life thing at the end is well worth the effort.

7K said...

I see your point about the "good news." I'm thinking the church, influenced by the Modern era and science, managed to reduce the scriptures to a literal document and simplistic, but morbid, approaches like "turn or burn."

"Here's the good news, my friend. Turn or burn."

The church only has one product, really, and that is Christ. But we've hacked him into denominational pieces and lost the beauty. He is why we do what we do. Wrapped up in his story is an incredible message of love and mercy and of a God who loves us all. In fact, his love is so complete that all mankind benefits from it, not just the faithful.

But over history our theologians have managed to mutilate the story and present the world with a vengeful and mean Christ. Well, the chickens have now come home to roost, I'm afraid.

One of the problems is, as you say, cognitive dissonance, in that the perception is increasingly that the religion does not deliver on its stated benefits. For millions of believers, it is simply endured or slept through. Sooner or later, hope deferred makes the heart faint.

Can the church evolve further? I think it can and will. The world has yet to hear how good the good news actually is.

psiloiordinary said...

7K said...

I think part of my point was that Jesus challenged religionists: but it is unfair to say that ALL religion is bad.

I didn't think anyone claimed it was.

So atheism might generate certain ways of doing things, a certain limiting approach to mystery (just the facts, Ma'am),

OK

a certain approach to ethical concepts,

Interesting - what do you mean by this?

and an approach to life with its own doctrines, heroes, and practices.

Examples please.

Lines drawn in the sand: behavioral taboos for atheists like "don't consider supernatural evidence."

I would love to consider it but no one will give me any ;-(

This thread and others is pretty overwhelming evidence that I am the one asking questions of you folks of faith and trying to consider this "supernatural evidence" so please don't flatly ignore what I have been doing and accuse me of doing the opposite.

Anyway, as myths or fairy tales, Leprechauns vs Jewish and Christian history is for me a pretty lame comparison.

Why?

This is the question I am asking - why?

There may be no difference in validity to you, but there certainly is to me. Now, if you were comparing Leprechauns to extra-terrestrials, I would tend to think that might be a valid comparison. But does this simply reflect my Christian bias? Possibly, in some way, a little.


Fine - but please answer my question.


But back to the Atheist "religion," I might ask, is there a devotion implied? Is it possible that, as an atheist, one has to don some kind of blinders, to filter out any serious consideration of oppositional information?


For Pete's sake I am asking for such information.

What happened, I think I'm trying to say, is that I seriously tried on the theist information: crossed the artificial boundaries around me. It was then that the association happened, that God became credible, then logical, and belief was inescapable.

In what way was it "logical"?

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Have you ever read Owen Gingerich, God's Universe? Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science at Harvard. It is an easy read and you can pick it up for under US$12 at Amazon. Gingerich did not set out to pen a new set of apologetics. But from his knowledge of astrophysics, he assembles evidence for a Creator that is stunning. Absolute? Of course not. But the kind of evidence over which even Fred Hoyle’s atheism stumbled, at times. (You may be familiar with Hoyles work in the fine tuning of the universe, and his own confession that his atheism was “greatly shaken” by his findings.)

Now I’m not arguing for proof here. And I think it is a mistake for the I.D. folk to cite Hoyle as they do when the evidence did not, in the end, shake Hoyle loose from his life-long atheism. My point is simply this: You keep insisting that we who believe offer evidence. We keep citing Creation itself. Gingerich helps to better define how Creation speaks in favor of a Creator. Your insistence that there is “no evidence” is lame in view of the fact that Fred Hoyle found so much evidence that he was shaken.

You speak of Christians as though our belief in a Creator is as senseless as Leprechaunism. You reveal your own lack of scholarship. Read Gingerich. Or better, read your own Hoyle. None of us should be so cocky.

7K said...

Whew. I just came out from a bout with food poisoning: some bad Cajun cod. But it did not produce a religious experience so I won't recommend it.

As I considered your protests, Psi, to my wobbly "proofs", I am left exasperated (probably from food poisoning as much as anything), and am left staring at this Gordion Knot, this great divide between atheism and theism.

The miraculous and the supernatural seem so obvious to me. It may not be scientifically testable, though. The Amazing Randy has proved we are a world riddled with fraud and magic, and we pay for it. We want the supernatural, for some reason, many of us. And we go to great lengths to produce it if it isn't readily available.

God remains hidden to unbelief, apparently. It isn't really hard to deny his existence. He doesn't leave a lot of evidence for us, at least not tangible, material evidence. Hence, perhaps, for the most rational among us, atheism could be the only refuge.

But I am not out to convince you of God. I appreciate your mind and the other atheists I've encountered here and elsewhere. Atheism becomes another lens through which I can see myself. It is a valuable encounter.

I'm sure all Christians don't see it that way, since there is a machine forming to protest the coming movie "The Golden Compass." For Fundamentalists, it is the next Harry Potter or DaVinci Code. Here we go again. Yawn.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi folks,

Cliff said this;

Have you ever read Owen Gingerich, God's Universe? Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science at Harvard. It is an easy read and you can pick it up for under US$12 at Amazon. Gingerich did not set out to pen a new set of apologetics. But from his knowledge of astrophysics, he assembles evidence for a Creator that is stunning. Absolute? Of course not. But the kind of evidence over which even Fred Hoyle’s atheism stumbled, at times. (You may be familiar with Hoyles work in the fine tuning of the universe, and his own confession that his atheism was “greatly shaken” by his findings.)

No I haven't read him but I have read a great deal on these general anthropomorphising thoughts.

Heard the one about the puddle? He just could not believe how incredibly accurately he fitted into the hole in which he lived - not proof you understand but a good indicator for his god? He thought so - I mean, what are the odds?

This story illustrates one error of thought in the anthropormorphising fine tuning school of thought - the fact that there may be a further underlying principle why some of the "fine tuned" numbers, look fine tuned. (It is gravity for our puddle friend)

The second error in this kind of thinking can be explored if we look at a lottery winner.

Take the fact that a lottery winner has a 1 in 13m chance of a win on each ticket (here in the UK anyway) so the chance they would win in their lifetime is practically nil. I can introduce you to a lottery winner each week (almost) if you like. You need to take into account the huge numbers of people who do the lottery each week. When you do this it is no surprise that we have weekly winners is it?

Now take life on earth as the highly unlikely lottery winner. The reason why you see this as so unlikely is you are unable to say how many people are ding the lottery each week. In this case how many universes or planets are there out there that were playing and which might have won? We just don't know. So it is unreasonable to assert that it is so very unlikely when you don't have the numbers to help you do the math.

Another point is that in our game of lottery life, you don't even know how many different ways there may be to win the lottery - we don't know what other forms of life might exist in universes with slightly or radically different "fine tuning".

So again you can't reasonably base any conclusion on this ignorance.

Do you see my points? They are not exactly intuitive and take a bit of thinking about - I hope I have explained them clearly.

If you can see some holes in my logic please point them out.

Your insistence that there is “no evidence” is lame in view of the fact that Fred Hoyle found so much evidence that he was shaken.

Argument from authority. Are film characters allowed? I see you a Man with no name and raise you a Yoda.

You speak of Christians as though our belief in a Creator is as senseless as Leprechaunism. You reveal your own lack of scholarship. Read Gingerich. Or better, read your own Hoyle. None of us should be so cocky.

Quite the contrary old chap, we should all be prepared to ask questions.

Taking offence at a question is what people do when they don't have an answer.

Hopefully I have given you the logical fallacies that Hoyle et al are using quite clearly and hopefully I have also demonstrated that I have thought about these issues and, whether you agree with my reasons or not, you can see why I reject these views as irrational.

You keep insisting that Christianity has more "evidence" than Leprechauns. You do so loudly and insistently and call me "cocky" for daring to ask for any evidence to back up such claims, but you are yet to provide me with some.

I am all ears (pointy ones).

- - -

BTW - all this is said with a smile - just in case it doesn't come across through my Yorkshire accent.

Feel free to answer the question with a smile too.

- - -

PS - I hope your wife is doing well. (and the rest of you)

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

Don’t worry, I can see the good-natured smile behind your arguments! I love the sparring, too.

I don’t know if you actually got my point. I am not offering the anthropomorphic principle as a proof. When I read it, I have many of the same thoughts you do. The “Puddle” actually gives an excellent metaphor for thoughts that I have often had. My point was:
There is evidence for a Creator Being (albeit unconvincing to you with good rationales) that makes the belief qualitatively different from Leprechaunism.

My appeal is not to some theist’s line of reasoning. My appeal to you is Fred Hoyle, a rather high profile atheist scientist, far better versed in cosmology and math than either you or me. And though he was not convinced of theism by fine tuning, he admitted to having his own atheistic assumptions “shaken” when he ran the numbers. I consider that to cross the threshold of what could be called “evidence”. Do you agree?

I could appeal to Occam’s Razor, here. I understand the multiple universe argument. But if you accept Hoyles numbers (I do), it would take 10 to the power of 59 big bangs before you’d even get one in which matter could coalesce into star systems to even begin the process of building the heavier elements necessary for life. I know that life could be other than carbon based, but I doubt if it could ever be helium or hydrogen based. So for me, theism is the simpler answer, and thus favored by Occam. This is my point of view. I’m not asking you to agree, or even to argue the point. It is not my main point. My main point is that evidence for theism (perhaps weak, in your view) does exist. And none exists for Leprechaunism.

Can you concede that if Hoyle considered fine tuning to be evidence that shook his atheism, that it does constitute “evidence”?

Ginger is doing okay. She had Chemo a couple of days ago, and so is not feeling well at the moment. But that usually only lasts a couple of days, and chemo is only once in three weeks. Thanks for asking!

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff at al,

Ding ding round two. :-)

I don’t know if you actually got my point. I am not offering the anthropomorphic principle as a proof.

Then I failed to get mine across. Yes I did see that you merely claim it as evidence and not proof - my comments were intended to show you how the indicator does not point in the direction of a deity (or to the lack of one either).

The errors of thought which I claim that Hoyle and you are guilty of are twofold;

If we look at this as a probability calculation it may help.

You say that the odds are so small because a certain six numbers could be anything else and any other numbers would not produce us.

I am just pointing out that you are doing the maths wrongly. First of all you don't know if the numbers can come out any other way, if they can't because of some underlying principles or laws then the probability becomes 1. Secondly you and Hoyle alike ignore the myriad other winners there may be, just because the laws are different and life as we know it is not possible does not mean that life is not possible.

To summarise you say that 1 in 10^59 is so small odds it makes you wonder if there is a God. I am just pointing out that it may in fact be 1 in 1, or indeed 10^59 in 10^59.

{I think it is Clarke who quotes good evidence that scientists talking about future evidence, experiments and developments are most often wrong when they rule out things as unlikely, improbable or impossible.}

So whilst I accept that you never claimed this as proof, I have never claimed you did and have simply pointed out that this is not evidence one way or the other. Not until some more of the numbers come in to allow us to work the odds out.

I'm not sure just how these other numbers can come in though, so for the time being we are left without the information needed to do the sum you claim supports your position.

So no, I don't accept your reasoning (or Hoyle's). Sorry Cliff but authority really doesn't cut it in science (or with me) at all. Not when I can point to errors of logic (which you are of course invited to find fault in yourself).

- - -

Occam's razor is not what you seem to imply. It is not (as is often quoted) the simpler answer that is usually right, but the answer with the fewer assumptions.

Therefore, whilst "god did it" is short and sweet, this explanation would have to be shaved off when compared to a natural law which generated 10^59 universes.

Such a natural law might be condensed to a few equations whereas a deity would not be susceptible to understanding in this way.

- - -

Of course we have both left unsaid that even if we ignore the maths errors in your argument, for the sake of debate, this still leaves a rather large gap between the "hinted at" deity and your particular god.

In fact such a broad hint would easily fit with the "little folks" explanation for the existence of reality, as least just as easily as this fits with your own holy book.

(Plus- please remember that I have rainbows on my side - which obviously tips the balance in my favour)

Best wishes,

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I am not likely to find errors in your argument. But then, too, I would never presume to have a superior understanding to Hoyle in matters of physics, astronomy and math.

Are you seriously suggesting that a world class mathematician on the order of Fred Hoyle simply failed to observe what, apparently, seems so obvious to you? Are you suggesting that, if only Psiloiordinary had been able to talk sense into Hoyle that he could have nodded, slapped his forehead, said, “By gosh, Psi, why didn’t I think of that”, and died a happy atheist?

I’m sorry Psi, but I find that claim preposterous.

Yes, all the contingencies you derscribe could be true. But you are basing your entire argument upon what we do not know. I suppose that when we admit the possibility of factors not yet discovered, we could use the same logic to question the existence of the Sun. We could toss all of Einstein’s work on the basis that there may be yet-to-be-uncovered factors that will negate everything he proposed (and indeed, this may be the case -- but I think you and I would both doubt it). So actually, extending your argument a bit, we know nothing at all.

I prefer to reason with what we do know, not with what we do not know. And I will say it again. Based on what we know, specifically, based on what Fred Hoyle knew, the many factors of fine tuning in the universe suggest that belief in a designer is a logical deduction ... indeed, not the only possibility, but one that deserves serious consideration.

Leprechaunism has no such logical or evidentiary basis recommending it.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi again,

Psi,

I am not likely to find errors in your argument. But then, too, I would never presume to have a superior understanding to Hoyle in matters of physics, astronomy and math.


Hang on a mo old chap - I claimed none of these things - read my comments again and tell me where I did such a thing.

Are you seriously suggesting that a world class mathematician on the order of Fred Hoyle simply failed to observe what, apparently, seems so obvious to you? Are you suggesting that, if only Psiloiordinary had been able to talk sense into Hoyle that he could have nodded, slapped his forehead, said, “By gosh, Psi, why didn’t I think of that”, and died a happy atheist?
I’m sorry Psi, but I find that claim preposterous.


Are you seriously ignoring my argument in its entirety and arguing purely on the basis of the logical fallacy known as the argument from authority - I find that approach preposterous.

Do you claim Hoyle is incapabe of error? Why?

He is one of my scientific heroes (and he is a Yorkshireman as well) and he did some amazing stuff but none of that makes him incapable of error and he does have at least one other fallacy named after him after all. (Hoyle's fallacy)

So anyway, if you don't want to engage in the debate but just want to call me preposterous for disagreeing with him then feel free. I suspect you simply don't like my conclusion (i.e. my pointing out that these lack of facts don't point one way or another) and have worked your way backwards from there.

Assuming for a moment that you use this "argument from authority" approach elsewhere in your life, then please tell us exactly how this hierarchy of authority works. Is it based upon qualifications, experience or age? At what point does someone achieve in-errancy? At what point does one's argument achieve immunity from thought and reason?

Personally I prefer logic and evidence, regardless of who said it.

BTW - if it helps then I am not the first to point of Hoyles errors of thought which, after all, were not in a paper but (from what you said) expressed in a popular science text. Many others with better qualifications than I have pointed to these holes in his argument - is that better authority for you?

If you actually read my comment you will realise that I have made a purely logical argument, the maths content consists of 3 simple divisions and has nothing to do with physics and astronomy either.

Hoyle's other famous fallacy involved similar areas of "simple" probability calculations.

Yes, all the contingencies you derscribe could be true.

Thank you.

But you are basing your entire argument upon what we do not know.

No I am pointing out that you don't have any data to base your conclusion on.

In fact this is the entirety of my argument.

I am not basing any calculations on ignorance at all - I simply point out that Hoyle has ignored these unknowns and yet still drawn an inference.

If we have the sum x + 1 = y can you tell me y without knowing x? No.

Can you even make the more general assumption that y will be greater than 100 say? No. This is my only argument - its simple logic.

I don't follow this next bit at all;

I suppose that when we admit the possibility of factors not yet discovered, we could use the same logic to question the existence of the Sun. We could toss all of Einstein’s work on the basis that there may be yet-to-be-uncovered factors that will negate everything he proposed (and indeed, this may be the case -- but I think you and I would both doubt it). So actually, extending your argument a bit, we know nothing at all.

Look at the addition example above - you argue we should do the sum based on what we do know i.e. y = 1?

I'm genuinely struggling to apply your rebuttal to my actual comments. I just point out you don't have one of the two numbers you need to do your division.

You can't just ignore your ignorance - if you see what I mean - this missing fact could make the answer point either way.

Perhaps you can show me some evidence to support your assumptions that there are no other universes or that no other forms of life are possible.

No such evidence has been given and yet these assumptions are implicit in the way the sum is calculated by Hoyle.

I am perfectly comfortable with dealing with incomplete knowledge and partially complete understanding - most of science can be described as such.

But how does any of this plug the gap left by the missing figure in Hoyle's sum?

I prefer to reason with what we do know, not with what we do not know.

I actually do genuinely agree with you about this, but you are not doing just this.

You are also making assumptions about what we do not know.

Surely it is far better to simply say that we don't know enough to make any kind of call here. We have to be honest and admit when we do not know things which could make our conclusion look very silly.

Of course if you start with the conclusion and just look for arguments to support it then you will arrive at precisely your position. Lack of counter argument, claims of authority et al.

And I will say it again. Based on what we know, specifically, based on what Fred Hoyle knew, the many factors of fine tuning in the universe suggest that belief in a designer is a logical deduction ... indeed, not the only possibility, but one that deserves serious consideration.

And yet you have not pointed out an errors in logic in my argument - you really like the conclusion don't you ;-)

Look at your sentence above - based on what Hoyle knew - agreed - it is a logical conclusion based solely on the facts he discusses - but it is not logical based on the other things I have pointed out - he has made assumptions about these things in his sums.

Leprechaunism has no such logical or evidentiary basis recommending it.

I say again that even granted a vague hint at a deity, just for the sake of argument, this discussion adds just as much support to the little folk as to the invisible sky folk.

Why would such a vague hint of deity point to Jesus more than Be'jesus?

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

I am really not interested in debating Hoyle based on his logic and/or logical errors. There are still today trained scientists, far beyond my knowledge base or analytical skills, who put considerable stock in Hoyle. And of course, there are others, similarly beyond me, who do not. I understand that. I also understand that the viability of atheism is contingent upon one’s ability to debunk Hoyle. All of this is beside the point.

The point being, Hoyle himself encountered evidence. And while there may be fallacies in his logic (and maybe not!) the evidence is never-the-less of a quality that demands some kind of response. Some, including you, have concluded that Hoyle did not consider certain possibilities. Others (including a Harvard professor of Astronomy and the History of Science) have concluded otherwise. I am not merely appealing to an argument from authority for the truth of the claim. I am appealing to a kind of argument from authority for the existence of a piece of evidence that seems significant to me, and still carries weight with many.

You write “... if you don't want to engage in the debate but just want to call me preposterous for disagreeing with him ...” No Psi. I do not consider you preposterous for disagreeing with him. To the contrary, yours is an intelligent and reasoned response. I do consider it preposterous to suggest that your line of reasoning would have never occurred to Hoyle. (As I said, your line of reasoning has often occurred to me in the context of the “life-on-other-planets” debate.) You are suggesting that Hoyle’s argument is without merit because of the logical fallacies. You are free to do so. But to suggest that Hoyle was foolish or ignorant to even consider fine-tuning to be evidence ... that I find preposterous. (If I can hear you say that Hoyle, your own Yorkshire hero, was not illogical, ignorant, or foolish, I will drop my assertion of your “preposterous” thinking. Can you say “Hoyle was qualified to recognize evidence when he saw it”?)

You close with the question “Why would such a vague hint of deity point to Jesus more than Be'jesus?” and I would answer, it does not. But our current question is not “which God?”; our current question is “is there any evidence for a creator, a first cause?” We can talk about Be’jesus after we agree on theism (which may never happen.) Right now I am trying to arrive at agreement only on one point: some evidence for an intelligent creator exists, and thus comparing theism to leprechaunism is unfair. So far, I’ve gotten you to at least mention to the possibility of a “vague hint”.

psiloiordinary said...

Cliff said;

I am really not interested in debating Hoyle based on his logic and/or logical errors.

Ok - end of conversation then :-(

I also understand that the viability of atheism is contingent upon one’s ability to debunk Hoyle.

What? Do we need to go back over my position again - fourth time now?

The point being, Hoyle himself encountered evidence. And while there may be fallacies in his logic (and maybe not!) the evidence is never-the-less of a quality that demands some kind of response.

I don't deny any of the measurements or numbers about fine tuning - I have simply pointed out that when looked at logically this does not lead to your or Hoyle's conclusion.

That is my only point and you insist on it being irrelevant - why is this irrelevant? I have pointed out why your argument is invalid - why is that irrelevant?

I do consider it preposterous to suggest that your line of reasoning would have never occurred to Hoyle. (As I said, your line of reasoning has often occurred to me in the context of the “life-on-other-planets” debate.) You are suggesting that Hoyle’s argument is without merit because of the logical fallacies. You are free to do so. But to suggest that Hoyle was foolish or ignorant to even consider fine-tuning to be evidence ... that I find preposterous.

Come on Cliff, be fair, I have stuck to the errors of logic in the argument - I have not called Hoyle foolish or ignorant. I am debating the argument here not the man - I have heaped praise upon him - but I have also pointed out that his achievements do not make him immune to mistakes.

I have pointed out a logical argument for why there are errors in this bit of reasoning - your response is to say that is besides the point. In fact it is the only point.

(If I can hear you say that Hoyle, your own Yorkshire hero, was not illogical, ignorant, or foolish, I will drop my assertion of your “preposterous” thinking. Can you say “Hoyle was qualified to recognize evidence when he saw it”?)

I do not dispute any measurements - I am pointing out that the conclusion you and Hoyle draw from these measurements is illogical - I have spelled out why - but you simply refuse to discuss this and say it is besides the point - ?

Why can't Hoyle be a genius and yet still have made a mistake? Why does it have to be so black and white?

- - -

I think you must mean deism and not theism in your last paragraph ?

I can't agree with your repeated assertion of "some evidence for a creator" - your argument has major logical flaws in it which you are refusing to address.

So far, I’ve gotten you to at least mention to the possibility of a “vague hint”.

Only for the sake of argument Cliff - please don't take my words out of context in such a way as to make it appear that I have the opposite opinion to that I actually expressed.

Sorry cliff but the argument you and Hoyle made has logical errors in it.

If you are not prepared to say why this is not so, then you can't in all honesty or conscience continue to use the argument as if it is valid in any way.

If you could at least give me some kind of argument for why my argument is wrong then we might at least have something we could agree to differ on. Your simple refusal to engage on this at all doesn't give me many options though.

- - -

Cliffy; A therefore B

Psiy; But the "therefore" is illogical - it does not follow!

Cliffy; So what? Anyway, now we have B let's move on to C

Psiy; Hang on a mo!

Cliffy; It's not me saying "therefore" it is someone cleverer than both of us so we can't even debate it, any way back to C . . .

Psiy; But that doesn't address my point at all. Yes he is clever but this argument seems wrong for the reasons I gave and look here is another example of a similar error by the same chap.

Cliffy; Well here are some more clever chaps, and by the way don't call him ignorant or illogical, anyway back to C

Psiy; Well I didn't and we still haven't arrived at B yet

Cliffy; If we remove the "n't" from your last sentence you will see that you have already admitted we have.

- - -

;-)

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,
Okay, my friend. I will try this again. It seems you and I are talking right past each other.

You have asked me to respond to the logic of your argument. I have responded, in two ways. 1) I’ve told you I agree with you! I even thanked you for the “puddle” analogy. Nothing wrong with your argument, as far as I can see. The one weakness in it that I did point out is 2) Your entire argument is based squarely upon what we “do not know”. You denied this. But listen to yourself present your three basic premises:

there may be a further underlying principle why some of the "fine tuned" numbers, look fine tuned.”
“... how many universes or planets are there out there that were playing and which might have won? We just don't know.
“... you don't even know how many different ways there may be to win the lottery.”


How on earth can I argue against what we don’t know? Your reasoning is sound. Your logic impeccable! If we follow your premise, which is basically “Heck, we don’t know but what ...” then all your deductions follow perfectly. No argument from me!

All I have ever contended is this: The universe appears to be the result of amazingly precise fine tuning suggesting an intelligent creator. It even suggests it to an atheist like Fred Hoyle. Now you come along to say that the universe may not me fine tuned at all. It may be only one in a string of trillions upon trillions of universes, and this one happened upon a set of random equations and – voila – here we are. I say to you, “yeah, you could be right. Still seems to me that the idea of design is at least as plausible as your explanation.”

So, you and I look at the same “evidence”, ask “what does this evidence mean?” and draw different conclusions. This happens all the time. I do not deny that the multiverse theory could explain the evidence. Still, for me, a more likely explanation is the teleological one. But you and I are both responding to a set of facts which constitute evidence. You take your argument beyond “one possible explanation for the evidence” and suggest instead that your argument totally obliterates the evidence itself, turns it into non-evidence, based upon the premise that we don’t know all the factors. I’m not saying your approach is without merit. But I question whether you can conclude that fine tuning is, ergo, not evidence at all.

The difficulty may be a semantic one. What is evidence? Sometimes evidence means proof. I am not using evidence that way. We have already agreed no “proof” exists to support theism or atheism. Sometimes evidence means “signs, indications”. Sometimes evidence does not demand a given conclusion; it may only suggest a given conclusion. It is still evidence, even if someone says “I see another possibility here.”

I am not contending that the evidence points to the God of Judeo-Christianity. But I am suggesting that there is more evidence (as I have carefully defined it!) upon which I can postulate my brand of theism than anything you could produce to support your fanciful leprechaunism.

Does this help to clear the water?

psiloiordinary said...

Cliff,

Okay, my friend. I will try this again. It seems you and I are talking right past each other.

Thanks for persevering mate - I am sure neither of us is doing this on purpose. I found your last post very helpful - hopefully this post of mine will explain why and be of some use to you.

You have asked me to respond to the logic of your argument. I have responded, in two ways. 1) I’ve told you I agree with you! I even thanked you for the “puddle” analogy. Nothing wrong with your argument, as far as I can see.

Thanks for being clear on this.

The one weakness in it that I did point out is 2) Your entire argument is based squarely upon what we “do not know”. You denied this. But listen to yourself present your three basic premises:

“there may be a further underlying principle why some of the "fine tuned" numbers, look fine tuned.”
“... how many universes or planets are there out there that were playing and which might have won? We just don't know.”
“... you don't even know how many different ways there may be to win the lottery."

How on earth can I argue against what we don’t know?


You can't. That's my entire point. Sorry Cliff, but the fact you can't argue against it doesn't make it untrue. Logical argument is a meritocracy, it does not care about "equality" between arguments - just their merit based on reason.

Your reasoning is sound. Your logic impeccable! If we follow your premise, which is basically “Heck, we don’t know but what ...” then all your deductions follow perfectly. No argument from me!

Thanks again.

Ok Cliff, I think I can try to explain my point to you this way. Lets back up and approach this from another angle (sorry for going at it again if you already get this);

I am pointing out things which you don't know and which may completely negate your argument.

I am NOT arguing for the opposite conclusion to yours. I am arguing that no conclusion is reasonable because of the massive impact of the unknowns (which you acknowledge exist) on your argument. I am arguing that the evidence can not be said to point towards design or away from design because there are huge unknowns in the "calculation" which we both acknowledge exist which could wildly skew the answer one way or the other.

Using a previous analogy; It is unreasonable to say the answer to 1+x is greater than 10,000 when we have no idea at all what x is.

Next you repeat your conclusion after having previously acknowledged it is logically untenable;

All I have ever contended is this: The universe appears to be the result of amazingly precise fine tuning suggesting an intelligent creator.

Next you claim some authority (again ignoring my argument);

It even suggests it to an atheist like Fred Hoyle. Now you come along to say that the universe may not me fine tuned at all. It may be only one in a string of trillions upon trillions of universes, and this one happened upon a set of random equations and – voila – here we are. I say to you, “yeah, you could be right.”

Ah! - OK I agree completely with this last bit;

Still seems to me that the idea of design is at least as plausible as your explanation.

Let me clarify my agreement - "In the context of the fine tuning which allows our kind of life to exist (I will widen this context a little in a moment if you don't mind) then Design is as plausible as natural explanations."

So I say right back to you "In that limited context then yeah you could be right - one possibe explanation of that, is that God did it".

WE AGREE ON THIS :-) - hurray !

Where we depart is in the following couple of reflections;

Anything at all can be explained by the supernatural or the natural - whenever we have looked into things though we have found natural explanations.

The score so far is several billion to nil in favour of evidence of the natural over evidence for the supernatural. Although there are plenty of areas - many more billions still - still unanswered - which is why I am not a atheist who claims proof of the non-existance of a deity/the supernatural and this is why I am curious about it and persist in asking for evidence. What did you think of my prayer diary idea BTW?

So moving a little beyond the immediate topic at hand, then what I am really curious about Cliff is this;

Still, for me, a more likely explanation is the teleological one.

Why is it more likely for you?

Given that the maths and logic, as we have both agreed, is at best totally neutral, then why jump your teleological way?

Isn't it more reasonable to say that the evidence points neither way?

Isn't there something nobler in admitting we just don't know?

Is it simply because you were brought up to think this and so in a sense don't have a choice?

I realise you will say this is daft. But if what I claimed were true then you would not be aware of it anyway would you?

This is what fascinates me about "believers".

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Wow, the comments section on this blog is very interesting and totally different from the Richard Dawkin's forum.

The conclusion I gathered on the debate is that "None of us really know", if we all agree on that, it makes us humble and separate us from the "religious know-it-all-for-sure". I see a lot of atheists, acting like they know it all for sure, which is the same attitude the religious people have.

Tom, Psiloiordinary and 7K's arguments are so beautiful.

I was disappointed when I went to the Richard Dawkins forum and saw the cult of atheism there, people are so close minded.

I am surprised and so glad to have stumbled such beautiful, polite and intelligent debate in here.

Tom said...

Thanks for the comment, Anon. Look for a new blog announcement here in a few weeks. In the meanwhile, you can find Psi and Cliff's blogs in my blogroll.

Best,
Tom